By Lisa Provence and Samantha Baars
Most of the biggest stories we followed this year were fallout
from 2017: both the direct effects of the Unite the Right rally, with
its continuing arrests and trials, and the continued furor over
monuments, free speech, and present-day inequities as our city grapples with its full history.
Martial law for August 12 anniversary
Understandably there was some trepidation about the first anniversary of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi invasion, but a heavy police presence that was 1,000 officers strong, Downtown Mall lockdown, checkpoints, and mandatory searches raised new concerns.
James Fields trial
The Ohio man who mowed down a crowd of citizens on Fourth Street was found guilty on 10 counts, including first-degree murder for the death of Heather Heyer. For the survivors who marched on Fourth Street after the verdict, it was a step in taking their lives—and their streets—back.
August 12 arrests
The year saw nonstop court dates and some heavy sentences meted out, particularly for the assault of DeAndre Harris in the Market Street Parking Garage. Four men were charged, and two have already been sentenced to six and eight years in prison. “Crying Nazi” Chris Cantwell was banned from Virginia for five years, and Maryland Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Richard Preston will spend four years in jail for firing a gun at the rally.
Pilgrimage to Montgomery
A group of about 100 citizens traveled to the Equal Justice Initiative’s new lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, bringing soil from the site where John Henry James was lynched in 1898 (now owned by Farmington Country Club). The pilgrims hit every civil rights museum and landmark on the way, learning more about this nation’s painful legacy of anti-black terrorism and how that plays out in the present.
Amtrak crash in Crozet
A chartered train carrying GOP congressmen to the Greenbrier in West Virginia slammed into a garbage truck on the tracks January 31, killing Time Disposal employee Christopher Foley, 28. Driver Dana Naylor, who tested positive for pot, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and DUI maiming.
Keith Woodard has enough
The would-be developer of West2nd, which would have housed the City Market and other retail on a city-owned parking lot, pulled the plug on the luxury condo project. After facing a new City Council, less supportive than the one in place when he started work on West2nd nearly five years ago, Woodard decided to stop jumping through hoops to build it.
Flash flood kills two
Ivy is not known for flash flooding, but as much as nine inches of rain came down May 30, turning Ivy Creek into a raging river that swept two cars off Old Ballard Road and killed a White Hall couple. Ten water rescues were made during the storm and nearly 40 county roads were closed.
Racial inequity in schools makes national news
A New York Times/ProPublica story in October on widening achievement gaps between white and black students in Charlottesville schools rocked the community, prompting soul searching and ongoing discussion about causes and solutions.
Changing of the guard
The year saw lots of turnover—and not all of it was related to the events of 2017.
It’s safe to say there’s no one else quite like her. The Charlottesville native ran for council as an independent under the campaign promise of “unmasking the illusion,” and as the city’s first black female mayor, she could also be its No. 1 advocate for transparency. She’s become an international sensation, traveling to Ghana and France, and appearing on “The View” and “Face the Nation.” Whether she’s bashing local media on Facebook Live or keeping councilors and council-watchers in check on the dais, with frequent 4-1 votes, Walker has shown that she’s not afraid to go her own way.
The university’s ninth president, who packed up and moved into Pavilion VIII this summer, made his first impression on many incoming Wahoos during move-in, when he disguised himself as a greeter and helped families unload their kids and their belongings. He immediately tackled the anniversary of August 11, 2017, when white supremacists marched across Grounds, by apologizing to the students and faculty who weren’t protected that day—something his predecessor never did. Ryan is also known for inviting students and community members on his early-morning runs, and they often turn up in droves.
The city officially welcomed its first female police chief in June. When former chief Al Thomas abruptly resigned a year ago, city officials initiated a months-long search and selected Brackney out of 169 candidates. Mayor Nikuyah Walker, a critic of local police profiling and mass incarceration, called her initial interview with the former George Washington University chief and Pittsburgh police commander “refreshing.”
Charlottesville’s top prosecutor took his post as commonwealth’s attorney in January after defeating local civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel for the spot that Dave Chapman held for nearly 25 years. Platania, who had worked under Chapman since 2003, angered many activists by choosing to prosecute DeAndre Harris and two other local African American men for fighting white supremacists on August 12. But he is the only law enforcement representative to so far suggest that the local jail stop voluntarily notifying federal immigration agents of undocumented inmates’ release dates. And he got national facetime for taking on the biggest case of the year—the first-degree murder trial of August 12 car attacker James Fields—alongside prosecutor Nina Antony.
The former executive director of Charlottesville Tomorrow made waves when he left his news nonprofit in February to become the city’s new director of communications—a job most were sure no one could ever want after the PR nightmare the city faced when Charlottesville became a national hashtag.
Though this defense contractor and distiller has never been a fan favorite in blue Charlottesville, the newly elected Republican 5th District congressman didn’t have much trouble defeating Democrat Leslie Cockburn. While their stances on many issues were actually quite similar—including decriminalizing marijuana and opposing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—only one of them has been mocked nationally for being an alleged “devotee of Bigfoot erotica,” and here’s a hint: It wasn’t her.
If something seemed different about the recent DMB concerts at JPJ, it likely was the absence of longtime violinist Tinsley, who exited the band in May after a Seattle man’s lawsuit alleged sexual assault, harassment, and long-term grooming. DMB claimed it knew nothing of Tinsley’s alleged predatory behavior, unlike the rest of Charlottesville, which lit up on social media over “Fiddlegate.”
The former city manager became another casualty of the August 12, 2017, debacle when Mayor Nikuyah Walker announced May 25 his contract would not be renewed. The former NBC29 sportscaster had served as city manager since 2010, and had stints as assistant city manager in 2008 and six years as director of communications starting in 1999. By July, Jones had landed a job as town manager in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, while Charlottesville still seeks a permanent CEO.
The one-term Republican 5th District congressman stunned constituents when he announced in May he would not seek reelection so he could deal with his alcoholism. The Buckingham resident also had to deal with a House Ethics Committee report that said he and his wife, Flanna, had inappropriately used staffers to do personal errands, including picking up dog poop, helping the couple move, and changing the oil in their car.
For years, former Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society board members approached reporters to urge a story about questionable board decisions at the society—but no one wanted to speak on the record. That changed last year after its membership had dropped 50 percent and the city threatened to not renew the society’s heavily subsidized lease in the McIntire Building. Amateur historian Meeks abruptly resigned February 11 amid accusations of bylaw violations and autocratic mismanagement.
The former Daily Progress publisher was shown the door May 1 after a little more than two years of leading the struggling daily. Jiranek’s tenure earned a Columbia Journalism Review rebuke—“The outrageous editorial by a Charlottesville daily that preceded violence”—for an editorial that blamed the city’s only black councilor at the time, Wes Bellamy, for calling for the removal of Confederate statues and drawing white supremacists here. Jiranek, a former co-owner of C-VILLE, made a lasting mark at the Progress by tearing down the wall—literally—between advertising and editorial.
What they said
Nikuyah Walker was elected mayor at City Council’s first meeting in
January, and became our most quoted person of the year.
“I’m comfortable with making people uncomfortable.”
—January 2, at council’s first meeting of the year, which was unusual both for the public sniping among councilors and the fact that votes for mayor, normally cast behind closed doors, were made publicly.
“While it has been better, it has been very difficult to conduct the meetings and have business take place.”
—April 2, after clearing the chamber during another out-of-control City Council meeting
“This is an attempt to put me in my place.”
—In July, after fellow councilors ask
if she should recuse herself from
the selection of a new city manager
because she’s a temporary Parks
& Rec employee.
“How civil and orderly were the community members who auctioned off black bodies in Court Square?”
—Walker responds October 24 to a Daily Progress op-ed on bullying at City Council meetings
“I didn’t respond to request for comment because I think these reporters are, a lot of them, not all of them…but the majority of these reporters, they have ill intentions and it’s not how I roll.”
—On Facebook Live December 5, responding—again—to a Progress article, this one about councilors’ credit card spending
And then there was everyone else…
“There was definitely a Festivus feel to it with the airing of the grievances.”
—Dave Norris referring to a “Seinfeld” episode in describing the no-holds-
barred public selection of mayor by City Council January 2
“That was a thorough butt-whupping.”
—UVA Coach Tony Bennett after the loss
of his No. 1-seeded Cavaliers to No. 16-seed UMBC in the first round of the NCAA tournament
“I don’t think you can understand the country today if you don’t understand the legacies of slavery and how they have shaped our understanding of rights, freedoms, and opportunities.”
—Montpelier President & CEO Kat Imhoff at a February summit on teaching slavery
“We’re like a mosquito on the giant’s ankle.”
—Anti-pipeline activist Kay Ferguson
“An all-too-familiar story in my timeline: A beautiful woman’s life cut short by a violent relationship.”
—Trina Murphy, great aunt of murdered Nelson teen Alexis Murphy, after her
son Xavier Grant Murphy is charged with the June 22 slaying of his girlfriend
“There was no one that was searched that was not consensual.”
—Police Chief RaShall Brackney raising eyebrows of those who could not enter the Downtown Mall during the August 12 anniversary without agreeing to a search