Every year at about this time, we take a special look back at the news that was. And yes, we’re looking for the gaffes, the missteps, the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me’s. Thankfully, 2004 was rich in them, mostly because public officials did so much to promote fear and divisiveness. And that was just the Sheriff’s office! Media organizations and entertainers made their share of blunders, meaning Channel 29 played dirty with the new competition and Dave Matthews Band reportedly went afoul of the public. •••No one denies the many fine humanitarian acts credited to the Cheap Shots recipients. Who could forget Rob Bell’s courageous support of Pat Benatar in the pages of C-VILLE, for instance? Or the kind invitation the legislature extended to Virginia’s gays and lesbians to just pack up and move to San Francisco if their unnatural “lifestyle” wasso freakin’ important to them? Not us. It’s all here for your reminiscing pleasure—Cheap Shots, circa 2004.
THE “GET ME REWRITE” AWARD FOR EDITORIAL EXCELLENCE
Coach Al Groh
For his hissy fit overpreseason team coverage
UVA head football coach Al Groh has a lot riding on his shoulders. As field general of the Cavs, Groh has more than 100 players and 11 coaches under his command. This summer, he took on an additional role: armchair newspaper editor. Unhappy with media coverage of several off-field incidents involving UVA football players, Groh lashed into reporters during the ACC football kick-off press conference this July.
“I’m pissed off. I’m invoking the Bowden doctrine,” Groh said, referring to Florida State University’s coach Bobby Bowden, who limited media access to his players after a spate of off-field problems.
The chief target of Groh’s press conference spaz was The Daily Progress, which reported on the July 17 arrest of Ahmad Bradshaw, a UVA football freshman who was nabbed by police for underage alcohol possession and obstruction of justice. Groh dissected the DP’s editing and layout choices, charging that Bradshaw’s arrest was overplayed by the puny, 250-word article.
“The only story in the main section of the paper that had a bigger headline was about the 9/11 commission,” Groh said, according to an account in The Virginian-Pilot. “That’s out of whack. I think everybody would agree, that’s out of whack.”
Given Groh’s unexpected editing expertise, one has to wonder, what did he think of the DP’s front-page coverage of malfunctioning toilets in McIntire Park? Out of whack or right on target?
If Groh is contemplating giving up his million in salary and perqs for a turn in newspaper editing, we can think of a few ink-stained wretches who wouldn’t mind trading places with him. Calling for a handoff to Wali Lundy or telling Ahmad Brooks to smash the QB—how tough can that be?—P.F.
THE TOUGH TITTIES AWARD
For the nurse-in at Atomic Burrito
A cold, drizzly day wasn’t enough to keep an impressive number of protesters off the Mall in June. An onlooker might have wondered, what’s the issue that brought such committed demonstrators and their homemade signs out to raise heck? Was it the war? The election? The racial achievement gap in local schools?
Nope. The protest was over the right to breastfeed in a tiny burrito restaurant on the Mall.
Only in Charlottesville.
The furor began when an employee of Atomic Burrito allegedly told Suzy Stone, 30, that her breast, on which her infant was suckling, was making other customers uncomfortable. That request escalated into rude comments from the employee, Stone alleged.
Three days later, a gaggle of protesters, including a dozen breastfeeding mothers, were on the Mall to fight for their right to nurse in public.
“I just don’t want it to happen to other mothers,” Stone said during the protest.
Atomic Burrito, no doubt feeling the heat from such high-stakes controversy, posted on its front window a statement which read: “Atomic Burrito unconditionally supports the rights of mothers to breastfeed within the restaurant specifically and in public generally.”—P.F.
THE “VIRGINIA IS FOR HATERS” AWARD
The General Assembly
For passing anti-gay H.B. 751
Virginia is for lovers…well, just so long as Virginians express their love in the missionary position, and for the sole purpose of birthin’ babies.
Ah, yes—it turns out that Sweet Virginny, where our forefathers first sought freedom from tyranny across the pond, has quite a bitchy streak herself. Virginia’s legislature rebelled against the British crown, then the American union; it fought civil rights and integration. Now, the Virginia legislature has turned its famous wrath toward gays.
Bible-thumping politicos—State Delegate Bob Marshall and his Republican minions—have made gains in the Commonwealth’s conservative suburbs by cynically exploiting old-fashioned homophobia. In July, Marshall’s H.B. 751, known as the “Affirmation of Marriage Act” and stating that Virginia shall not honor same-sex civil unions performed in other states, became law.
The people who pushed this bill invoke religion and “family values” to cement their own power. Ironically, families suffer under their policies.
Lisa Miller-Jenkins, a Vermont woman seeking to dissolve her civil union with her partner, Janet, is now using the Affirmation of Marriage Act to her own purposes. The two women have a child together, and a Vermont judge ruled in June that they should share custody. Lisa then fled to Virginia and on July 1—the day H.B. 751 took effect—filed for sole custody of the child in Frederick County Circuit Court. In October, the Virginia judge ruled that Janet has no right to custody, while the Vermont judge found Lisa in contempt of court for refusing to share custody. The legal battle continues.
While the Virginia court focuses on bolstering anti-gay politics, it seems the welfare of the child—who deserves a relationship with both her parents, regardless of their sexuality—is ignored.—J.B.
THE TEMPEST IN ATEAPOT AWARD
Parents of Charlottesville schoolchildren
For flipping out about the new superintendent
A fracas erupted over the management of city schools this September, stoked by a weekend of furious e-mailing by hyper-involved parents. One of the chief e-mails, written by parents Karl and Jenny Ackerman, began with the ominous lines: “Dear Friends, We’re writing because we can keep silent no longer. We are deeply concerned about the direction our school system is taking under the new superintendent, Scottie Griffin, and we believe something needs to be done now before the damage is irreparable.”
How long had parents kept their silence about the allegedly ruinous reign of Dr. Griffin? About 10 weeks, give or take a few days.
Griffin, who began her job as Charlottesville superintendent on July 1, was just beginning the school year when the squabble came to a head. On September 16, a few days after the most frantic batch of e-mailing, hundreds of parents, teachers and concerned citizens packed a School Board meeting to have a say in the debate.
During the meeting, the issue of race—long the undercurrent of school controversies—dominated the conversation. In their haste to lower the boom on Griffin, who is black, the agitated parents, the vast majority of whom are white, managed to anger many members of the African-American community. If parents’ complaints were legit, they were now lost in a far more divisive argument over whether Griffin was getting more pressure than would a white superintendent.
“Let her do her job,” was the plea by both black and white Griffin supporters during the meeting. This response seemed reasonable compared to the tone used in those early parent e-mails, most of which were hyperbolic, overheated and at least a little clueless about how they might be perceived in the black community.—P.F.
THE “WANNA BE STARTING SOMETHING” AWARD
Playing the race card in the schools debate
Are you a white parent of a student in the Charlottesville public schools? Are you concerned about recent policies handed down by the superintendent or school board? If so, you must be a “redneck” with a secret stash of “white sheets” ready to be thrown over your head in a moment’s notice, or so says Rick Turner, UVA’s Dean of African-American Affairs.
Turner’s task is to stand up for black students, faculty and staff at a university with a less-than-perfect history of racial harmony.
But to Turner, the dean job also entails making inflammatory comments over conflicts in the Charlottesville community, some of which have nothing to do with UVA.
At a spirited and contentious meeting of the Charlottesville School Board in September, some African-Americans stood in defense of Dr. Scottie Griffin, the new African-American superintendent. Griffin has come under fire for several changes she has made within the school system and, some said, for her lack of outreach within the community.
Turner took his defense of Griffin a step farther than others, claiming that people who have criticized Griffin’s initiatives “really can’t accept the color of her skin.”
Turner received a smattering of hisses and boos for playing the race card without acknowledging the substance of any of the parents’ complaints, but was that response enough to make Turner reconsider his irresponsible blathering?
At a School Board meeting a few weeks later, Turner upped the ante, talking about “white sheets” and “rednecks” when addressing further criticism of Griffin.—P.F.
THE DIAL-DOWN-THE-CENTER AWARD
The Paramount Theater, Inc.
For underwhelming firstseason programming
In the late 1980s, as The Paramount Theater faced certain demolition to make room for new development, a group of concerned citizens formulated a plan to rescue and restore the old Downtown landmark, which had closed its doors in 1974. By about 1992, the project’s fundraising drives had started generating buzz about the theater’s grand reopening. And in March 2002, a groundbreaking ceremony officially began construction on the theater. With such good intentions, it would seem unthinkable to say that the end result might not live up to all the hype.
On September 17 of this year, the $16 million undertaking finally unveiled its opening season, which would commence in December. They promised “rock ‘n’ roll in-your-face energy,” and “a spectacle worthy of the Rolling Stones.” And that was just for Carrot Top. Over the course of renovations, it appears workers had stumbled upon a time warp and used it to recruit their entire season’s lineup. Some of the acts might even have welcomed gigs at the pre-renovated Paramount.
By the end of the week following the announcement, the red-mopped prop-comic, AT&T pitchman and star of Dennis the Menace Strikes Again had become a symbol for the theater’s out-of-touch-with-the-Downtown-audience allure, as vandals left a large “X“ over Mr. Top’s headshot on a panel display mounted at the work zone.
“That mixed-bag reaction is the sort of thing you get when you present any sort of season, especially when so many have waited so long,” says Kristen Gleason, The Paramount’s director for community relations and education. The theater downplays cynical speculation, maintaining that its niche as Downtown’s more traditional venue will complement the stages at the envelope-pushing City Center for Contemporary Arts and the Coran Capshaw-backed amphitheater currently under construction, neither of which, it must be said, could properly accommodate a Pauly Shore-caliber artist.—Ben Sellers
THE TIGHT FIST AWARD
Delegate Rob Bell
For making a hard right in the General Assembly
Albemarle Delegate Rob Bell is a rising star in the Virginia General Assembly. For good reason—behind the Orange County prosecutor’s Boy Scout charm and affinity for ’80s party rock lie fierce intelligence and in-depth knowledge of State law.
Bell’s attributes were on display in the 2004 General Assembly session, when he led a House of Delegates effort to strengthen and streamline the Commonwealth’s drunk driving laws.
This year’s biggest issue, though, was taxes. Last January, Democrats and moderate Republicans pushed for new taxes that would help the State pay overdue bills for everything from roads to schools to police officers. The new taxes passed, but not without a drawn-out fight from some Republicans, including Bell, who opposed all new taxes.
“We’re spending more per person every year. We should look at prioritizing,” Bell said in February. That may be true, but the problem is that Virginia law requires certain levels of spending for education and human services. When the General Assembly doesn’t pay those bills, local governments must raise taxes to meet the Commonwealth’s unfunded mandates.
We’ve got to give Bell credit, though. This year, his fellow no-taxers also continued their efforts to restrict a woman’s constitutional right to abortion services. Bell refused to march in lockstep with the Right’s social agenda, however. He supported some, but not all, of that anti-choice legislation, indicating that Albemarle’s delegate has a mind of his own.—J.B.
THE PIECE OF THE ROCK HOMELAND SECURITY AWARD
For creative use ofgeology in the fightagainst terror
Albemarle County has long done its part to fight terrorism within its rustic borders. County Sheriff and former FBI agent Ed Robb has led the charge, declaring that anti-terrorism is his top priority, and the County has used federal homeland security funds to buy high-powered sniper rifles and machine guns.
This year, County officials added a new line of defense: boulders strategically placed around the entrance to the County Office Building.
That’s right, any terrorists plotting a front-door assault of County HQ this August—perhaps during a particularly important Planning Commission meeting—would have to contend with a Stonehenge-like array of big boulders. Take that, Osama!
In the end, the boulders were only a temporary solution, giving way weeks later to a planned plaza, complete with brick planters and stone benches. The boulders were retired to Darden Towe Park.
Not that Robb dreamed this thing up on his own. According to County spokesperson Lee Catlin, the feds’ guidelines over how localities should deal with Code Orange alerts had included suggestions for preventing “vehicular intrusions.” The County’s first solution to the presumed threat of car bombs and the like was to park several police cruisers around the building’s entrance. The boulders were later purchased to free up the cruisers for other tasks—you know, like actual policing.—P.F.
THE “SEE YA, WOULDN’T WANNA BE YA” AWARD
For unceremoniouslybooting Meredith Richards
The Democratic Party remains nearly monolithic in Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean there are no fractures in the foundation.
The “Dems for Change” faction that formed in late 1999 and sent two candidates—Kevin Lynch and Maurice Cox—to Council in 2000 hasn’t played a visible role in the two campaigns since. But the division between conservative and progressive Democrats still influences city politics. When two-term Democratic Councilor Meredith Richards didn’t toe the DFC line, she found herself brusquely booted from the 2004 ticket.
The DFC’s website, which hasn’t been updated since 2002, opens with a quote from Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” For some Democrats, that change includes redeveloping Charlottesville into “a transportation and land use system that will reduce reliance on cars and promote mixed-use, human-scale development.”
It’s a fine idea—trying to maximize real estate tax revenue while retaining Charlottesville’s quality of life. But for the small-business owner who discovers the City wants to close the street in front of his establishment and build condominiums, well, he’s likely to say screw your political platform, buddy.
Leading up to the 2004 campaign, Richards helped push a plan to ease city land to the state for the Meadowcreek Parkway. That didn’t sit well with the DFC faithful. Nor did they appreciate it when she sided with a group of local business owners protesting the city plan that was dear to the heart of architect Cox to build condos at the intersection of Preston and Grady avenues.
In no time flat, Richards’ ouster was underway. Was Cox, the champion of the Preston Commons project, behind the efforts? One thing’s for certain, up front he dedicated a lot of energy to recruiting eventual winner Kendra Hamilton to the party’s ticket. Some say Richards lost simply for responding to the concerns of her constituents. Richards refused supporters’ calls to run as a write-in candidate, but she was openly angry about the situation: “The party turned their backs on me,” she fumed to C-VILLE after the primary.—J.B.
THE FLUSH WITH SUCCESS AWARD
Dave Matthews Band
For letting shit happen
This August, a group of 120 Chicagoans got up close and personal with the Dave Matthews Band—way too personal. According to a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Attorney General’s office against the band, one of DMB’s tour buses let loose a tank full of raw sewage while rolling on a grated bridge over the Chicago River, dousing scores of passengers on an open-air tour-boat that was passing below the bridge.
Brett McNeil, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was on the ill-fated tour-boat.
“Mostly what I remember is people gagging,” McNeil later wrote, describing the substance dumped by the DMB rig as “Port-a-potty juice.”
To try to make amends, the band later donated $50,000 to both the Friends of the Chicago River and The Chicago Park District. But though DMB has suspended the bus driver in question, by press time it had yet to admit whether one of its buses was the manure-spitter. DMB did, however, offer up DNA evidence to help determine whether the offending poopy came from one of their buses.
Though Chicago dyes the river green every St. Patrick’s Day, the city has worked hard to clean up the urban waterway. DMB’s alleged contribution to the river—an ironic twist for such committed environmentalists—has not gone over well in Chi-Town. In a Chicago Tribune poll, 36 percent of respondents said the incident was made worse because they are “bombarded with enough of [DMB’s] crap already.”—P.F.
THE PURPLE PROSE AWARD
The Daily Progress
For best dramaticperformance by aneditorial page
This year, The Daily Progress’ political endorsements were like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai—lots of passion, but hard to take seriously.
The newspaper’s May 2 editorial, “Fresh voices energize city,” urged people to vote for Democrat Kendra Hamilton and Republicans Kenneth Jackson and Ann Reinicke for City Council. That piece’s creative highlight was the way it glossed over Jackson’s criminal record with the rhetorical question: “Who else can speak for those in trouble as well as he?”
Yet for sheer absurdity, no piece of journalism this year can top the DP’s October 31 endorsement of George W. Bush for president.
The piece was a textbook example of the Rovian fear-mongering Republicans successfully employed throughout the campaign. “The right leader is Mr. Bush. His solid commitment to liberty is undeniable,” says the DP. “No one…can doubt his steadfast determination to save America.” The piece absurdly implied that John Kerry is not committed to liberty, and that a Kerry presidency would herald the destruction of the United States.
The DP’s endorsements, contrasted with the city’s votes in the Council and presidential elections, indicate that the newspaper is seriously out of touch with Charlottesville’s electorate. Why? Perhaps it is because, as local blogger Waldo Jaquith opines on www.cvillenews.com, DP’s parent company Media General is lobbying the government to lift regulations on media monopolies, a position generally favored by Republicans.—J.B.
THE “THREE’S COMPANY” AWARD
WVIR, “Virginia’s Most Powerful Station”
For fighting dirty
The story has all the makings of a classic exposé. With fears about radiation, dueling corporate bigwigs and conflicting scientific studies, one could almost imagine a NBC 29 anchor saying, with TV-voice gravitas, “Next up, an exclusive story in which Channel 29 has learned …”
But this scoop never ran on local TV, because it was actually about WVIR NBC 29’s parent company, Waterman Broadcasting Corp.
NBC 29 has long been the big dog on the dial in this town. But competition loomed this March, when Gray Television, an Atlanta broadcast chain, announced plans to bring new CBS and ABC affiliates to town.
Battling for viewers and ad dollars was sure to be, as the President would say, hard work (we know this because we see it on TV). So WVIR’s brass had a better idea. The government still requires television stations to beam their signals into the TV sets of the cable deprived. Therefore, NBC 29 realized, if it could keep Gray’s broadcast tower from being built, it would remain the only game in town.
NBC 29’s first move was to commission an engineering study of the radiation around the antenna farm on Carter’s Mountain where Gray planned to build its new tower. The study, conducted by a D.C.-based engineering firm, revealed that if Gray built the new tower, the resulting radiation would be a serious safety risk.
This alarming research, which stirred up worries about irradiated apples, apple-pickers, residents and tourists, was filed with the Albemarle County Planning Commission just in time for a decision on Gray’s tower plan. Gray had to get its tower built by August 15 or it would lose its FCC license.
But unfortunately for NBC 29, Gray’s tower wasn’t the only new structure going up in the tower farm. In fact, NBC 29 was in the process of building its own tower. To get approval for this structure—a digital broadcast tower required by the feds—NBC 29 had paid for yet another radiation study of Carter Mountain. This study, conducted by the same D.C. engineering firm, found that radiation around both the new NBC and CBS towers would be far below dangerous levels.
Oops. Apparently determining whether people might be zapped by radiation depends on who’s asking, and how much they’re paying.
The Supes approved the new tower, and both the new ABC and CBS stations were on the air by August.—P.F.
THE “THIS IS ONLYA TEST” AWARD
For her inflated sense of emergency
Republicans’ lifeblood is bashing local government for wasting resources in the pursuit of frivolous causes, unless, of course, the cause happens to be one of the city Republicans’ pet projects.
This September, approximately 3,000 Charlottesvillians got a call from the City’s “emergency operations” phone system. The emergency: meetings to discuss whether City Councilors should be elected from wards rather than the current at-large system. This possible electoral change, one that Republicans gave a big push this year, could only be considered an emergency among a tiny cadre of geek politicos. The culprit behind the unauthorized automated calls was Ann Reinicke, a Republican who failed in her election bid for City Council this year.
Reinicke is an informal block rep in her Orangedale neighborhood, a capacity in which she had recently been trained in how to use the City’s emergency phone system. Though Reinicke was authorized to send messages to her neighbors about meetings and neighborhood emergencies, she was not cleared to blanket a wide swath of Charlottesville with phone messages. That authority is reserved for calls about real disasters like hurricanes or toxic waste spills, not for a minor disasters-in-the-making, such as a Republican plot to take over the City Council.—P.F.
THE “I HAVE A DREAM BUT NO IMAGINATION” AWARD
For renaming the Performing Arts Center
At a marathon April 5 Charlottesville City Council meeting, just before Council prepared to hash out its fiscal-year budget, members of the local NAACP and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee presented another momentous proposal: Citing a petition with more than 800 signatures, group representatives asked that the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center, located in Charlottesville High School, be renamed to honor King.
As the appeal came amid the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, guilt over the city’s historic role in massive resistance to integration, and calls that—as in other cities—something be named for the great civil rights leader, Council unanimously voted in favor. On May 19, the name change was made official.
Few questioned the fact that King had no discernible ties to local arts or education and was only known to have visited Charlottesville once, for a 1963 speaking engagement at UVA’s Cabell Hall. Nor conversely did anyone stop to ask how the high-school auditorium’s Nutcracker performances and the occasional Béla Fleck visit might do justice to Dr. King’s legacy.
While anyone from local black leader Raymond Bell, to Newport News native Ella Fitzgerald, to former Virginia Governor and now Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder would have seemed a more fitting honoree, pressures to fall in line with other cosmopolitan hubs boasting MLK centers and boulevards prevailed. Ultimately the hasty initiative didn’t rewrite the city’s history, but left its mark in a little extra paperwork, a lot of head scratching, and one squandered opportunity.—Ben Sellers
THE “BECAUSE I SAID SO” AWARD
Judge Paul Peatross
For despotism in the courtroom
For all their power, judges enjoy a level of privacy most other public officials can only dream about. Sitting judges rarely give interviews, and little is known about the behind-the-scenes interactions between judges and lawyers.
When Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross announced in April that he wouldn’t hear any criminal cases involving the County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney or public defender, we could only speculate on reasons for the fallout.
Then, in October, the Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission released reports from a hearing on Peatross, which provided a rare glimpse into the inner realms of Albemarle’s legal system. According to media reports, the Commission recommended that the State Supreme Court censure or remove Peatross for “judicial absolutism.”
The ruling against Peatross stems from a complaint filed by Jim Camblos, Albemarle County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney. In December 2003, Camblos approached Peatross with a plea agreement he had negotiated with an assistant public defender in a robbery case. The agreement would have withdrawn a failure-to-appear charge against the defendant, but Peatross did not accept the plea bargain. Instead, Peatross booted both attorneys off the case.
Charlottesville lawyer Francis McQ. Lawrence, in a written testimony to the Commission, wrote that Peatross “refuses to allow reasonable reductions in charge decisions sought by the Commonwealth.” Peatross told the commission he was “overwhelmed and humiliated” by its findings, which the judge apparently does not find fair.—J.B.
THE DEADBEAT DAD AWARD
Commonwealth of Virginia
For claiming rights but failing to pay support
Because of a 150-year-old law called the Dillon Rule, cities and counties in Virginia only have powers explicitly granted to them by the General Assembly. This rule makes localities children of the state, and this year, nobody was happy in the Commonwealth’s household.
Dissing Richmond was big in Charlottesville this year. Vice Mayor Kevin Lynch kicked off the hate parade during last spring’s City Council campaign. When Republicans blamed rising City budgets on Council’s tax-and-spend liberalism, Lynch countered that the City is only paying for the sins of the State. Now, as Council begins preparing next year’s annual budget, City officials are claiming that about 75 percent of the City budget comprises various line items that the State requires but doesn’t fully fund. Real estate taxes got you down? Don’t blame us, says Council. Blame Richmond.
That’s been UVA’s refrain all year, too. As UVA’s top brass seek more autonomy from Richmond, head ’Hoo John Casteen has been sure to remind everyone within the sound of his voice that the Commonwealth is a deadbeat.
Down in Richmond, some legislators think that City Councilors and college presidents are just crybabies. If the State gave Charlottesville all the money it wanted, the General Assembly’s conventional wisdom goes, then we’d just squander it on organic pavement or solar-powered buses. All of which means that the 150-year-old argument over the Dillon Rule will last a while longer.—J.B.