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Virginia’s Black Lieutenant Governor Launches Bid for Top Office

January 26, 1989

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves and the first black to win a statewide election in Virginia, began campaigning Thursday to become the first elected black governor in the nation.

But the 58-year-old former state legislator, who defied experts four years ago by beating a white candidate to become lieutenant governor, said he would not let race become an issue in the campaign.

″I hope that it plays as little part in this electoral process as possible,″ said Wilder, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination in a state with a 17 percent black population.

Wilder told about 300 supporters at a downtown convention center and thousands of television viewers watching the rally statewide via satellite that he would campaign on a ″Three for Virginia″ program of permanent tax relief, initiatives to combat illegal drugs and drug-related crime, and the creation of jobs and housing in poor rural areas.

Wilder wrapped himself in the thriving economy cloak of Democratic Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, who by law cannot succeed himself, and said he would build on Baliles’ accomplishments.

He also paid tribute to two pillars of political succcess in the state - conservative fiscal policy and business leadership.

″Today, because of Virginia’s great natural and human resources and Democratic fiscally conservative management, we have provided improved services with budget surpluses,″ he said.

As for business, he said, ″Every governor of this state has relied on the keen insight of the Virginia business community. I intend to follow this tradition.″

Nowhere in his 15-minute announcement did Wilder make specific reference to the historic aspect of his campaign, but he made a few comments about how times have changed and, at a news conference afterward, said he was aware of the interest because of his race.

″Forty years ago, working my way through college and law school as a waiter and bus boy, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to run for governor of Virginia,″ he said.

Wilder’s campaign theme included:

- Pushing to repeal the sales tax on food in future years and a promise to neither propose nor initiate new taxes. But Wilder would not rule out signing a tax hike if it becomes necessary.

- Cracking down on drug dealers.

- Expanding economic prosperity statewide, a point made by Wilder’s only challenger for the nomination, state Sen. Daniel W. Bird Jr. before he withdrew from the campaign Tuesday.

Virtually the entire state Democratic leadership attended the rally, but noticeably absent was U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb. Wilder said Robb, Baliles’ predecessor who was elected to the Senate in November, was busy in Washington.

Wilder has had differences in the past with both Robb and Baliles, but the theme Thursday was unity. Baliles introduced Wilder as ″a man who does not flinch in cause of justice and does not hesitate in the search for progress.″

Wilder will be nominated at the state Democratic Convention in Richmond in June. His Republican opponent will be decided in a June 13 primary.

The GOP has four contenders for the office: former U.S. Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr., former Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, Rep. Stanford E. Parris of northern Virginia and Del. Raymond R. ″Andy″ Guest Jr., a state legislator from the Shenandoah Valley.

″I will be prepared to deal with each of them,″ Wilder said.

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