Person of the year: The runners up
When the remains of her daughter Morgan were discovered on a southern Albemarle County farm nearly two years ago, Gil Harrington could have let searing anguish push her into a quiet corner.
But through her exquisite pain and rage, she has put a powerful voice behind every parent's deepest fear. Straight talk about the killer and poetic talk about her daughter have combined with a recent lawsuit to make Gil– short for Gilbert (a French name with a soft "g")– a powerful national advocate for the families of missing people. Along with her equally fervent husband, Dan, she has been lobbying lawmakers for tougher crime laws. In October, the couple launched a new nonprofit, Help Save the Next Girl, which they hope will help prevent other deaths through safety education initiatives and help those who have violently lost a loved one navigate the unfamiliar and overwhelming terrain of police investigations and relentless media coverage. "We're not going away," Gil has promised. Does anyone doubt she means it?
You could call him "king of the flip," and for much of his real estate career, Hunter Craig ruled over creative and oh-so-lucrative real estate transactions. In 2011, however, Craig's crown was knocked askew by the ever-growing controversy over Biscuit Run, the development-turned-state park that focused an unflattering light on the concept of conservation tax credits. First announced by outgoing Governor Tim Kaine in December 2009, the sale of the 1,200 acre-property to the state was presented as a generous gift by investors, but it didn't take long for the cracks in that story to show. First, there was the $88 million appraisal Craig and company hoped would provide more than $30 million in tax credits. That, coupled with the $9.8 million sales price, would have helped the investors recoup most of their losses on what many saw as a bad bubble-era speculation. The state rejected that valuation, and now Craig is suing the state– er, that would be you, the taxpayer– in an effort to refill his diminished coffers. Wait a sec– Is he a king, or a dictator?
When conservatives hear progressive political activist David Swanson coming, they might want to run away. But sometimes, they do so quite literally. After Vice President Dick Cheney announced plans to speak at the Miller Center on November 16, Swanson publicly called for Cheney's arrest for conspiracy to commit torture. "Were a local resident credibly accused of torture, I sincerely doubt you would hesitate to seek his or her immediate arrest and indictment," Swanson wrote in a November 14 letter emailed to Charlottesville and Albemarle law enforcement and posted on his website, warisacrime.org. Mere hours later, the Miller Center announced that Cheney's visit would be postponed for "personal reasons" and that he'd reschedule for early next year. Coincidence? Perhaps. But either way, Swanson will undoubtedly lead the welcome parade if the former Veep appears.
With her extensive technology credentials, Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran has lived up to her promise that County schools will lead the nation in adopting educational tools for the 21st century– for instance, the school system was one of the first in the state to give iPod Touch technology to every high school student. But a Hook investigation revealed that Moran's ties to a corporation known as SchoolNet run deep and raised questions about a multimillion-dollar contract for a grade-keeping database that malfunctioned so badly that high school seniors could have had their college plans derailed. When the Hook sought emails explaining how tightly Moran was connected to SchoolNet, Moran clammed up. And then sent the Hook a bill of nearly $2,000 for her obfuscatory efforts.
When a big-time crime happens in a rural community, resources can be stretched thin, but Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler showed that her office meant business when Eric Abshire was arrested in December 2010 for the four-years-earlier murder of his wife, Justine. In October– just weeks before she was up for reelection and mere months after the infamous non-conviction of Casey Anthony– Wheeler and assistant commonwealth's attorney Rick Moore laid their case out for a jury. It had been painstakingly investigated over five years, but like the Casey Anthony case, was built on circumstantial evidence. Even without a single physical link between Abshire and the murder, Wheeler won a first-degree murder conviction– and, less than two weeks later, reelection.
Over the past decade, Charlottesville-based hedge fund manager Ted Weschler quietly earned a reputation as one of the best money managers on the planet, making wise long-term investments (the wisest, of course, in a small town newspaper known as the Hook.) But the man who has reportedly brought his investors a more than 1,200 percent return since 2001 wasn't satisfied, and after donating $5 million to charity in exchange for two meals with Warren Buffett– the most expensive job application ever, as various national media noted– Weschler was offered a top spot with Berkshire Hathaway. Now that he's one of two heirs apparent to the man known as the "Oracle of Omaha," all Weschler needs is his own nickname: The Virginia Visionary? The Channeller of Charlottesville? The Augur of Albemarle?
Perhaps the best test of grace is how you appear when you're falling from it. And in 2011, no one made financial catastrophe look more glamorous than Pat Kluge, once married to America's richest man. This year, she kept her head high as she faced foreclosure on two homes, her vineyard, and the County subdivision she'd planned to develop. With Donald Trump swooping in to purchase Kluge Vineyard Estates, now known as Trump Vineyard Estates, Kluge– who earns a six-figure salary working for the Donald– stood proudly by his side at an October event, ribbing reporters and looking every bit as regal as she did when she had billions at her disposal.
In this age of struggling newspapers, Brian Wheeler's at the helm of the nonprofit growth-watching website Charlottesville Tomorrow whose no-fee coverage of municipal meetings has helped keep the Daily Progress in business. That contribution– which dates to 2009– won recognition this past March from Editor & Publisher magazine as an innovative solution to the challenges facing the industry. Although Wheeler's cheerleading of the dam and pipeline plan pushed by the Nature Conservancy have brought him criticism, even critics can see that Wheeler's doing something right simply by compensation: over $100,000 according to records on Guidestar.com.
In his first year as Charlottesville City Manager, Jones has proven he has the communication chops to get along with various departments and elected officials. His predecessor, Gary O'Connell, who held the job for years, was criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for foisting plans for a new reservoir on elected officials. Jones, however, has a background in news. A sports reporter for NBC29 back in the 1990s, he later served as the city spokesperson, launching a public access program featuring interviews with various movers and shakers. The first African American to hold the City's top job, Jones has accomplished more than mere symbolism. He oversaw a peaceful resolution to the Occupy Charlottesville movement, which took over Lee Park on October 15 and remained a tent city until the city eviction on November 30. Unlike in other cities, where protesters and police clashed and pepper spray and billy clubs appeared, the only headline-grabbing element of the Charlottesville eviction was the naked lady protester.
With an all-Democrat city council that's likely to stay that way, and a city populace that typically votes 80 percent Democratic, conservative radio show host and former City Councilor Rob Schilling may be in the minority, but his is a loud and persistent voice of opposition to the leaders of what he calls "The People's Republic of Charlottesville." The most recent target of his wrath: Occupy Charlottesville, and the city officials who approved the tent city that sprung up in mid-October and remained until November 30. Calling the Occupiers a "lawless group" and criticizing the condition of Lee Park after the group vacated, Schilling has also pointed out that the Tea Party hasn't been met with the same level of favors by the city.
He hiked the Appalachian Trail at age 17, ran for public office in his mid-20s, and has long been known locally for his cvillenews.com news aggregator and his legislation-centric Richmondsunlight.com. But 2011 was the year the world seemed to recognize Jaquith's talents. In June, Jaquith was awarded $160,000 from the Knight Foundation to develop an interactive website to make the Virginia State Code more accessible, an effort he hopes to repeat for other states across the country. As if that weren't enough, the White House came calling this fall, offering Jaquith– who recently became a father– a top-secret part-time job that he'll describe only as "something to do with open government." Even when he writes a blog post on making a cheeseburger from scratch, national media perk up, including Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Dude. Care to share the success a little?
If there's one thing you can say for Tom Frederick, it's that he sticks to his guns. Take the community water plan. Even after numerous groups and individuals provided hard data showing the water demands of the future have been grossly overestimated, Frederick still stands by the need for a new dam and 9.5-mile pipeline that could continue the spike in local water bills (which have already tripled since 1999). Any concern that Charlottesville's water supply is getting overbuilt to provide a test case for the Nature Conservancy and its deep-pocketed donors (Nestlé Waters and American Standard, to the tune of $1 million each) hasn't stopped a majority on City Council from listening to Frederick– and letting him tear up the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
Her daughter reported being raped, and Susan Russell expected authorities to do something about it. When they didn't, an enraged Russell turned activist, launching uvavictimsofrape.com and outing her daughter's alleged assailant. This year, the fruits of Russell's labor hit Richmond in the form of a bill forcing collaboration between local and campus police departments in felony rape and murder cases and that would require schools to notify local prosecutors within 24 hours of a crime involving a student being reported. While the Virginia Crime Commission rejected several of the HB2490's measures, Russell's hopeful that when it goes to a full vote in the state legislature early next year, lawmakers will see the light. We'll stay tuned.