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HOLMBERG: Former governor/mayor L. Douglas Wilder tweets into Monument Avenue flap

Posted at 12:38 AM, Jul 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-03 09:51:14-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Richmond-area residents and people across the country bicker about Confederate monuments and other symbols, former Virginia governor (and former Richmond mayor) L. Douglas Wilder fired up his twitter account to take the current mayor to task about his recent stand about adding more historic figures to Monument Avenue.

The elusive former governor tweeted, "of all the monuments there, the (Arthur) Ashe memorial is the only one surrounded with weeds and undergrowth."

"Before we start proposing anything else," he wrote, "is it asking too much of the city to show appropriate respect for the latest addition?" Wilder noted that this is the 40th anniversary of Ashe winning at Wimbledon.

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It was the lighter of the twitter slaps at current Mayor Dwight Jones' administration, and a fair one.

The 20-year-old monument to Richmond tennis legend and AIDS/education activist Arthur Ashe is the only one on Monument Avenue that looks this scruffy. Clearly, some of the weeds have been overgrown for weeks.

Mayor Jones' press secretary Michael Wallace said its Public Works job to keep those monuments tidy and they'll get right on it next week.

Then the former governor jumped on Mayor Jones for saying we should add more historic black figures to Monument Avenue, tweeting that Jones "is the one official who took no such position" when the controversial monument to Ashe was publicly debated. (Opponents believed a modern sports hero didn't belong on an avenue of Confederate leaders. At the time, Jones was a relative newbie in the state House of Delegates representing the 70th District, which includes Richmond and parts of Henrico and Chesterfield counties.)

Jones was not available for comment today.

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He and Wilder have not been close during their long political careers.

Interestingly, Wilder tweeted no opinion about the current controversy over whether the monuments to the Confederate leaders should be removed.

Those with long memories may recall Wilder was criticized for buying campaign ads during the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV shows while stumping to become the first elected black governor in the U.S.

And while governor, he occasionally reached out to those his democratic base typically shunned.

One of the most famous of those instances involved a Confederate flag.

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June 4, 1999, was the grand opening of the Canal Walk and Turning Basin in downtown Richmond. There had been ferocious controversy over a floodwall banner of Robert E. Lee, which was one of many depicting the history of the city. It had been taken down amidst threats by flame-throwing city council member and activist Sa'ad El-Amin.

So the grand opening celebration was protested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and others furious over the historic snub. They chanted and flew a big Confederate flag over one of the canal's bridges. When the boat carrying Wilder and other dignitaries approached the bridge, the governor stood up and smartly saluted. (See video report.) El-Amin fumed that Wilder "either is senile, or he's a damn fool or a buffoon."

On Thursday, Gov. Wilder also tweeted about those, including himself, who fought to get the controversial monument to Ashe on Monument Avenue, naming the key players in that historic event.

Fair enough.

To me, the weeds around the Ashe statue is the least of its problems. Frankly, it's ugly, awkward in scope and just plain clumsy. The artist, Paul DiPasquale can, and has done, much, much better.

Arthur Ashe was one of the graceful people ever, in spirit and particularly in form. He deserves a good weeding and much a larger, more graceful monument on Monument Avenue.

No doubt, L. Douglas Wilder is thinking his will be nearby, and always neatly groomed.

That's my take. Please share yours in the comments section below.

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