Made his last last official public...

GOV. DOUGLAS WILDER

March 07, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

GOV. DOUGLAS WILDER made his last last official public appearance at his alma mater in Richmond on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

There the only black ever popularly elected governor in America was saluted with, "Thank you for living the dream." He certainly proved that Dr. King's dream of Southern blacks and whites unshackled from centuries of racism could come true.

Governor Wilder left office not only having accomplished a historic breakthrough in electability, but also with a record of solid accomplishment. For liberals, he appointed many women and minorities to influential state posts. For conservatives, he kept taxes down and bond ratings up.

I thought that made him a good bet to become the first black elected to the Senate from a state of the old Confederacy. I even thought he had greater prospects. I wrote in April 1991 that the Democratic ticket in 1992 needed to be all-Southern, and that Governor Wilder was a good prospect for such a ticket.

He announced his presidential candidacy that fall, then unannounced, when his naked ambition hurt him in Virginia. Then he announced he would try to oust his fellow Democrat, Sen. Charles Robb, in 1994; he abandoned that, too.

* * * *

"President Wilder" has a nice ring to it. I like it. "I think it would be neat," as Ollie North (perhaps Virginia's next senator) might put it. "It's time you people had a president," as Ross Perot might say.

By "you people," I mean, of course, Virginians.

One of Virginia's slogans is "Mother of Presidents." Ha! There hasn't been a real Virginian in the White House in 149 years. By real Virginian, I mean someone born and bred in the state, and elected from there. The last one was John Tyler, who served as president from 1841-1845. And he wasn't elected president. He was elected vice president, but his president died after a month in office.

That was William Henry Harrison. He was also born in Virginia, and Virginians count him as one of their eight presidents to justify their claim as "mother." But Harrison left Virginia early and was elected president from Ohio. Zachary Taylor (elected 1848) and Woodrow Wilson (1912, 1916) were born in Virginia, but the former was elected from Louisiana, and the latter's state song when he was elected president was "Carry Me Back to Old New Joisey."

Virginia's only real presidents were Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Ohio is the real Mother of Presidents. Seven were born there, five of whom were bred in and elected from there. Versus Virginia's eight and four (plus Tyler).

I once thought Senator Robb was a good bet to break Virginia's long dry spell, but then, in keeping with another of the state's slogans ("Virginia Is for Lovers"), he got caught in that hotel room with the beauty queen, and now he not only isn't a presidential hopeful, he's not even assured of re-election to the Senate.

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