The Justice Department (search) on Monday approved Richmond's plan for citywide mayoral elections, rejecting claims that the change would dilute the political power of the city's largely black electorate.

The ruling clears the way for a Nov. 2 election pitting incumbent Rudolph McCollum (search) against the nation's first elected black governor, L. Douglas Wilder (search).

The proposal, approved 4-1 by voters in a referendum last year, allows residents to elect a mayor directly and gives the post more power. Under the existing system, City Council appoints one of its members to the largely ceremonial post.

Virginia lawmakers approved the change earlier this year pending a Justice Department review to ensure that the change complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which bars former Confederate states from enacting laws that diminish black voting clout.

Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Democrat and the only black member of Virginia's delegation to Congress, asked the Justice Department to reject the plan on grounds that it violates the federal law enacted at the height of the civil rights movement.

Wilder, also a Democrat, has argued that a strong mayor is necessary to take on chronic problems of rampant gang and gun violence within the state capital.

Spokesmen for Wilder and Scott said neither was available for comment.