So here’s the thing: There’s always going to be a worse year. 1347, when the bubonic plague erupted across Europe, beginning a pandemic that would eventually eliminate at least a third of the existent human population, is right up there. 1862, when the devastating charnel house of the American Civil War reached a destructive peak, was definitely no great shakes. And 1945? Don’t get us started. But in the annals of history, 2016 is surely going to be considered one of the most infuriating, unpleasant and counter-productive years the modern world has yet seen.
Almost certainly the hottest year on record (surpassing 2015, the second-hottest), 2016 will long be remembered as the moment when the lunatics seized control of the asylum, probably robbing the world of its last chance to curtail the devastating effects of human-fueled climate change. A dismal journey around the sun marked by heartbreaking conflict and suffering, 2016 was also the year that America—long a beacon of hope for refugees and dispossessed peoples the world over—decided to elect as president the very personification of callousness and selfish indifference. The fact that the American people, marinating in a stew of fake news, Russian propaganda, FBI leaks and frivolous reporting, basically voted to deny themselves affordable health care, a strong social safety net and any chance of halting runaway income inequality is just icing on the cake.
And so, as we gaze back over the insufferable span of the last 12 months, it’s hard to even know what to say. Yes, there were flashes of unadulterated excitement and joy (the Chicago Cubs finally crushing their 108-year curse, a new Tribe Called Quest album…um, some other things, we’re sure), but overall the preponderance of miserable moments and awful outcomes outweighed just about everything else, making the very idea of a year-in-review issue almost too much to bear.
But as we are a professional outfit staffed with dedicated journalists, we are going to buck up, put our disappointment and depression aside, and take one last lingering look back at the useless year that was. And as we dissect the myriad of events that combined to make 2016 such an epic annus horribilis, we will console ourselves—and hopefully our readers, as well—with this simple truth: It can’t get much worse than this.
It can’t, right?—Dan Catalano
All the news we wished we didn’t have to print
As if it weren’t bad enough that the election lasted two years, maniacs are mass murdering people all over the world and police are still shooting unarmed black men while being targeted themselves, things sucked in Charlottesville, too. And there’s some stuff we’re sick of writing about.
Stories that won’t die
The Landmark Hotel: This derelict behemoth has been in our faces since 2009, thank you Halsey Minor. Current owner John Dewberry still promises a five-star hotel, in his own good time. He recently opened The Dewberry in Charleston to rave reviews, but it took him nine years to transform a flooded post office into the toast of the Holy City. He’s asking Charlottesville for tax rebates, and of course the Landmark will need parking. Dewberry wants the city to lease him 108 spaces for $1 a year. Which brings us to our next morass.
Water Street Parking Garage: In the power struggle between Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown and Mayor Mike Signer, the city dug in its heels to deny Brown the same parking rates it charges at the Market Street Garage, and Brown didn’t help matters by suggesting he’d close the garage if he didn’t get his way. He’s suing the city, and the city is suing him. The situation further devolved when Brown filed for an emergency receivership and the city contested his hiring of former mayor Dave Norris to run CPC.
Let’s not forget that the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville had a near coup in the parking debacle, and Violet Crown hired spinmeister Susan Payne to pressure the city not to sell to Brown. Meanwhile, Albemarle is threatening to move its courts from downtown, and employees wonder if they can afford to work downtown. And no one’s reassured by the city’s promise that it’s working on it.
Racism: This year reinforced the fact that Americans can’t escape their shameful history of a country founded on the back of slavery. Early in the year, Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy and City Councilor Kristin Szakos called for the removal of Confederate statues in Lee Park and Court Square. The city appointed a blue ribbon commission to look at race, memorials and public spaces, and that public dialogue is a good thing.
But Bellamy found himself in the midst of a couple more race-based controversies. He called for a boycott of Bella’s Restaurant when its owner, Doug Muir, compared Black Lives Matter to the KKK, and he came under fire himself when a previously unknown writer named Jason Kessler dug up disparaging tweets about women, white people and homosexuals Bellamy made before being elected to office. Bellamy resigned from his teaching job at Albemarle High School as well as from the state Board of Education. And we’ve learned the term “alt-right,” which, despite its adherents’ protestations, many are convinced is a new word for white supremacism. And who’s the bigot who thought it was okay to harass Bodo’s employees?
Pipeline: Perhaps the only people more exhausted than those fighting to ward off the approval of the $6 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline are the reporters covering it. Among many other wins and losses this year, a judge ruled in favor of about 40 Nelson County landowners who said Dominion—the energy giant backing the pipeline—surveyed their properties without their permission. The ACP’s construction could begin next year.
Rolling Stone defamation trial: Yeah, that was a major journalistic botch. Rolling Stone had already been thoroughly shamed before it ever got to court, and UVA’s Nicole Eramo was awarded $3 million for her portrayal as an uncaring administrator. But we’ve sat through murder trials that took fewer than three weeks, and the jury’s determination that an editor’s note warning of Jackie’s duplicity constituted republication with actual malice is so chilling that major news organizations are calling for the verdict to be overturned.
ABC: Why does Virginia still have a Prohibition era agency that hassles local businesses like Escafé because they sell too much booze and terrorizes UVA students in hopes of routing out 19-year-olds having a beer?
Bronco Mendenhall: The savior of UVA football’s first season was a 2-10 flop, but we loved the story about his family living in an RV while their $2 million house was renovated.
Gerrymandering: Dem-heavy Charlottesville and Albemarle are still stuck in the same congressional district as Southside and it is sliced up so that three of its four delegates in the General Assembly are Republicans, including Rustburg’s hit-and-runnin’ Matt Fariss.
Gallo: As if the wine giant didn’t have a lingering dubious reputation for producing Night Train and Thunderbird, it trademark bullied local Barefoot Bucha into changing its name in case an unsuspecting consumer can’t tell the difference between kombucha and Barefoot Wine’s white zinfandel.
Albemarle economic development: The county has long been considered unfriendly to business, and its refusal to rezone an urban ring perimeter parcel to nab Deschutes Brewery reaffirms that perception. Also a bad sign: Its first economic development director, Faith McClintic, lasted little more than a year before splitting.
City Council public comment: Yes, the decision to tighten rules at the beginning of the year with no public input was probably not a good idea, and a judge calling the prohibition against group defamation unconstitutional is also a sign that council was sort of like Mussolini making the trains run on time. But the meetings did tend to get hijacked by a few regulars. And is online sign-up really such a bad thing?
Elite Eight: We soared with Tony Bennett’s Cavs throughout a winning season and a No. 1 seed, until that fateful March Madness matchup with Syracuse when it all went bad fast.
Jesse Matthew: This Monticello High graduate and serial killer has held the area hostage since at least 2009, when Morgan Harrington disappeared from a Metallica concert. Even tying his DNA to another Northern Virginia assault victim wasn’t enough to save Hannah Graham. Matthew is serving four life sentences.
Felon voting rights: Virginia protected its punitive and disenfranchising reputation when General Assembly GOPers took Governor Terry McAuliffe to court for restoring 200,000 voting rights en masse on April 22. Just because the 1830 constitution prohibited white felons from voting doesn’t mean it’s right.
Heroin epidemic: As if it’s not bad enough that Big Pharma and despair make opioids an appealing, yet fatal alternative for so many citizens, we have the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force dealing with the epidemic by setting up junkies and then using them to buy drugs. There’s got to be a better way.
Rabid foxes: A skulk of potentially rabid foxes terrorized downtown neighborhoods last March, preying on at least three people in two weeks. One fox with a major attitude evaded capture by Animal Control and allegedly crawled into a storm drain to die, while tests from another that was trapped and killed showed no signs of rabies.
Crescent Halls heat stroke: A serious air conditioning malfunction at the 105-room, low-income apartment complex across from IX Art Park caused tensions to boil at an August 15 City Council meeting. Several residents voiced their grievances in what the Daily Progress called “an animated public comment period,” which overwhelmed council members to the point of temporarily suspending their meeting.
Unlawful filming: It was a hell of a year for men filming women and juveniles without their consent. Forest Lakes resident Thomas Eagleson is serving seven months in jail for installing secret cameras in his neighbor’s master bathroom (ahem, shower) and Adam Jamerson, from Buckingham County, was arrested for filming a nonconsenting nude shopper at the Downtown Mall’s Urban Outfitters in September. Stay tuned for his January appearance in Charlottesville General District Court.
Bryan Silva: Ah, yes. The kid famous for spouting off on social media while waving firearms and making fake gun noises (re: “gratata”) caused the first local SWAT standoff of the year when he barricaded himself inside his apartment for several hours and live-streamed videos of himself rapping and sloshing clear liquid out of a Grey Goose bottle to his millions of fans. He eventually exited his residence, with his hands in the air and his pants around his ankles. As a result of the standoff and events leading up to it (allegedly holding his then-girlfriend hostage), he is now serving one year and nine months.
Locals we lost
Howard Pape, 63, was a successful businessman who knew he had more to offer. As a result, so many have shelter thanks to the Building Goodness Foundation, which he helped found, and so many have been entertained at Live Arts, where he put those construction skills into gorgeous sets, even on the day before his unexpected February 28 death.
UVA professor Bill Lucy, 77, who died April 7, was an urban planning visionary, and his service on the Charlottesville Planning Commission helped shape the city, while his study of fatalities on rural roads made us rethink bucolic settings on narrow two-lane roads.
Ruhi Ramazani, 88, put UVA’s foreign policy studies on the map. He came to this country from Iran in 1952, a time when the U.S. was more welcoming to those fleeing for their lives, and his quiet diplomacy guided the university for decades and earned him its top honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award. He died October 5.
Eric Betthauser, called “Mr. B” by his students, was a 43-year-old music teacher at Western Albemarle High School and Henley Middle School. After he was hit and killed by a drunk driver November 22, his students remembered him as a role model who supported their passion of making music; a teacher who always made them feel accepted in the classroom.
Sydney Blair’s unexpected death December 12 at age 67 had UVA’s English department reeling. She taught in the creative writing program since she joined the faculty in 1986, and headed the program twice, leading it to national prominence.
Silver linings (or, what we tell ourselves to keep going)
Khizr Khan said what many of us were thinking when he, a Pakistani American, offered up his own copy of the Constitution to Donald Trump while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia beside his wife, Ghazala. The couple—whose son, UVA grad and U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004—gained national attention for standing up for Muslims in America.
Grab your helmets and lube your bike chains, the verdict is finally in: After years of heated public hearings and deliberations, mountain biking (and hiking) is now permitted at Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
Those living on the east side of Charlottesville in Woolen Mills have been neighbors with the smell of sewage for decades, but a $9.33 million odor-control project administered by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority should finally stop the stink. The final phase kicked off this summer.
Wegmans finally opened at 5th Street Station, offering 120,000 square feet of pure supermarket magic. It’s hard to pick our favorite feature: the sushi counter or the fresh fish market? The free wine and beer tastings? The 56 varieties of cookies baked daily? We can’t say for sure, but was it worth the hype? Absolutely.
Former UVA senior basketball star Anthony Gill married his girlfriend of eight years, Jenna Jamil, just two weeks after he hung up his Virginia uniform. Of course, we were elated for the soul mates because they’re young and in love—and that our story on their special day was our most-read article of the year on c-ville.com.
Opening in July, the Route 29 and Rio Road interchange project wrapped up 46 days ahead of schedule. Hard hats off to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In September, UVA completed the Rotunda’s $58.5 million, years-long restoration effort. Woohoo for the Wahoos.