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Museum plan put at risk?
Questions raised about U.S. National Slavery Museum in wake of former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's bid for Richmond's mayorship

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Date published: 6/4/2004


Should former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder succeed in his bid to become Richmond's next mayor, he would be taking on a full-time job--not a ceremonial title.

Yet, so far, Fredericksburg officials aren't panicked that Wilder's interest has waned in a plan to build the U.S. National Slavery Museum in the city.

"It is a worry, but I'd have to talk to him and I hope it wouldn't interfere because I certainly think [the museum] is a real worthwhile endeavor," said Dr. Tom Tomzak, who takes office as Fredericksburg's mayor on July 1.

Tomzak is among those who would like more details from Wilder about how his mayoral bid fits with his long-held goal to build this museum.

Jud Honaker, vice president of the Silver Cos. commercial division, said he spoke with the former governor Tuesday--three days after he announced his campaign plans.

Honaker, whose company donated the land for the museum, said he didn't want to speak for Wilder, but said the former governor suggested the position could benefit the museum.

"I have talked to him about that, and his feeling is it's a positive and an asset and it will help in this endeavor," Honaker said.

"I understand where he's coming from, and I believe he's correct."

Honaker declined to go into specifics, but said the idea is that the position would generate a "spinoff" of additional attention to the museum Wilder has said will open in 2007.

Wilder, the 73-year-old grandson of slaves and the nation's first elected black governor, could not be reached for comment this week. A spokeswoman in his office said he plans to make another statement about his mayoral race in a few days.

To run for mayor, Wilder will have to re-establish residency in Richmond. He now lives in Charles City County.

The Democrat is seeking to fill a position he helped rework from one that had been essentially ceremonial. In July 2002, Wilder and Rep. Thomas J. Bliley, a Republican, began working on a plan that was approved by city voters in a November referendum and then by the General Assembly this year.

If the revision survives a Justice Department review, Richmond will shift from a city manager system to one that's operated by the mayor and a chief administrative officer.

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