Person of the Year: The runners up...
UVA President Teresa Sullivan was a shoo-in for the Hook's Person of the Year, but she certainly wasn't the only one who made waves in 2012. From a certain UVA rector to a determined sheriff to an outspoken professor, here are this year's runners-up.
With the exception of Casey Anthony's, there may be no recent trial more heavily covered by national media than that of George W. Huguely, V. Over the course of two weeks in February, Charlottesville became a media mecca, with an overflow "war room" for journalists in the former Juvenile and Domestic Courthouse, but Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman didn't let the pressure of the spotlight get to him. In a grueling trial that saw Huguely defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana knocked out for a day by a vicious stomach bug, Chapman led the prosecution to a victory, securing a second degree murder conviction with a 23-year sentence.
In his long and storied law enforcement career, Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding earned national recognition for his work establishing a DNA database in Virginia that became a model for other states. He's not content to rest on his laurels though, and when Harding got wind of a case in which an innocent man might have spent a decade behind bars, he threw himself into the investigation and discovered a nasty bit of information: that officials had secretly placed that man, Michael Hash, in a Charlottesville cell block for a night with a "professional snitch," and that they'd then lied about that under oath. Hash, whose case was taken on by the Innocence Project, was freed on March 14.
In several cases this year, jurors showed an independent spirit and the phrase "jury nullification"– the power of the people beloved by the Founding Fathers to reject unjust laws– was heard in some quarters. The most notable was the prosecution of Philip Cobbs for possession of two pot plants in July. Six potential jurors were dismissed after saying they would not convict because they thought marijuana laws were just plain wrong. And the presiding judge, Cheryl Higgins, noted that she was unable to seat a jury for the last pot case she tried. Jury nullification came up again in August in a stalking case against graduation rapist Jeffrey Kitze. The jury sent a note out saying they thought he was guilty of something, but the law was bad and, with at least one juror citing the principle of jury nullification, they couldn't convict. Happy 250th birthday, Charlottesville. The revolutionary spirit lives on.
The author of An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America unleashed a firestorm with his latest book, which questions the notion of Thomas Jefferson as the benevolent slave owner. Henry Wiencek made the cover of Smithsonian and American History magazines in advance of the release of Master of the Mountain: Jefferson and his Slaves. Even Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post had something good to say about the book. But up on Monticello, the reception was considerably frostier. Retired Monticello researcher Cinder Stanton accused Wiencek of playing "fast and loose" with the historical evidence, and noted historian Annette Gordon-Reed declared in Slate that Wiencek "loathed" Jefferson. And Wiencek fired back. We think Jefferson would be pleased to know he could still incite such controversy 200 years later.
The Richmond-based billionaire businessman purchased Keswick Hall in the first part of the year in a move that brought back the prospect of family ownership to a crown jewel of Charlottesville tourism. Goodwin's year was just getting started. This summer, Governor McDonnell appointed Goodwin– who's donated $50 million to UVA– as a special non-voting advisor to the UVA board. Goodwin may not have the vote, but he certainly has the ear of many of the board members, something he made apparent in his first meeting, when he piped up to tell Terry Sullivan that she should "leave the past alone."
Last year, Craig was a runner-up for his role in the Biscuit Run deal and his efforts to recoup the loss of a bad investment through tax credits. This year, however, Biscuit Run's on the back burner, and Craig made the list as a UVA Board member instrumental in getting president Teresa Sullivan back in charge. On June 19, Craig announced that he'd be willing to step down from the board to make room for a faculty member and told a reporter he'd tried and failed during that marathon meeting to reinstate the president. As national outrage swelled and Rector Helen Dragas reiterated her disdain for Sullivan, Craig pulled his masterstroke. Along with two other boardies, Mac Caputo and Tim Robertson, they called for another Board meeting, the one on June 26– with a different outcome.
As chair of the Media Studies department at UVA, Siva Vaidhyanathan reads plenty of news, but when the fit hit the shan at his own institution, he didn't hesitate to throw himself into the fray, getting out in front of the story with his own penned pieces on Slate.com in which he eviscerated the process by which Sullivan, for whom he had previously worked at the University of Texas, was fired. In a June 15 article, he compared the UVA board to robber barons of the 19th century. While other faculty were speaking privately about their disgust with the process, Vaidhyanathan went public and pulled no punches. "The biggest challenge facing higher education is market-based myopia," Vaidhyanathan wrote. "Wealthy board members, echoing the politicians who appointed them (after massive campaign donations) too often believe that universities should be run like businesses, despite the poor record of most actual businesses in human history."
Whether she deserves it or not, UVA rector Helen Dragas emerged from the Teresa Sullivan firing debacle about as well liked as Cruella DaVille. The Virginia Beach developer who earned her undergraduate and MBA degrees from UVA, didn't just make an unpopular decision– she dug in her heels and clung to the rector role even as others involved in the firing stepped down and the clamor for her resignation included demands by the Faculty Senate and hundreds of letter writers, alums, and a few state legislators. Whether Dragas finishes out her term now depends on the General Assembly, which will convene in January and weigh in on her fate.
–due to an editing error not caught by presstime, the date of the reinstatement of President Sullivan was wrong in the printed version of this story. As stated above, it was June 26, not June 23.
–another error not caught by presstime was the location of the overlap of Teresa Sullivan and her outspoken defender Siva Vaidhyanathan. Sullivan was the graduate dean at the University of Texas when Vaidhyanathan was a graduate student there. The story above has been corrected.