HburgNews – 2008 in Review

Renee -- December 31st, 2008

As 2008 comes to a close, let’s spend New Year’s Eve looking back at our year of news. HburgNews had about 463 posts this year, which averages to about 9 per week. Though Brent took a break as lead poster and handed over the reigns in November, he still wrote over 70% of the articles this year. We added the twitter sideblog and hashtag sections to the right sidebar, and Author links to the “about hburgnews” page. (P.S. Look for more technical upgrades in the near future!)


Hburgnews covered the many changes to Downtown Harrisonburg this year, especially those related to Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. HDR’s changes downtown in 2008 included the installation of new brick sidewalks as part of the Streetscape Project, the long-awaited re-opening of the walkway behind Finnigan’s Cove, and the appearance of new Wayfinding signs to direct people to downtown destinations. Trees downtown were removed, added, and pruned. Also partially thanks to HDR, MACRoCk was back this year. HDR also started the “Ask Eddie” blog in 2008, which keeps us informed of downtown happenings.

Other notable downtown stories this year included the Harrisonburg Free Clinic requiring citizen documentation from patients and reactions to that decision, and local success-story Rosetta Stone (creators of the famous language learning software) applying to publicly trade its stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Also, if you visit downtown these days, you can’t miss the start of construction of the Urban Exchange building.

Changes in the downtown restaurant scene include the closing of Luigi’s, the opening of Clementine and Franklin’s, and the re-opening of Blue Nile as a new downtown hotspot. The Artful Dodger was voted the best Coffee shop in town by eightyone magazine readers, and Cally’s (which we’re finally used to not calling Calhoun’s) chose to go smoke-free this year.


Thanks mostly to Thanh, we were kept apprised of local “green” initiatives in 2008, including Harrisonburg’s Clean Stream initiative. The Clean Stream initiative included the “Doodie-Free” campaign, which encouraged residents to clean up after their dogs to help improve the health of the city, and the 11th annual Blacks Run & Downtown Clean-Up Day. 2008 also saw the addition of the “Green Village” at the Harrisonburg International Festival and the 3rd annual Walk to School Day. These environmental efforts contributed to Harrisonburg being “Green Certified” by the VA Municipal League.

Bike riders in the ‘burg may have noticed our coverage of the new Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, promotion of Bike to Work Week, the “Everyday Bikes” community project, and the grand opening of Rocktown Trails, the off-road wooded mountain biking trails at Hillandale Park.

JMU joined in the eco-effort, with its No Drive Day, the formation of the Institute for Stewardship of the Natural World, LEED-Certified Dining Hall construction, and the recent announcement of the Sustainable Business Competition.


Of course, we can’t possibly do a year-end wrap-up without mentioning arguably the biggest stories of the year, concerning the local, state, and presidential elections in November. Voter registration in Harrisonburg increased by 25% in one year, and voter turnout in the city was almost 73%.


Brent and Emmy managed an email Q&A series with the Harrisonburg City Council candidates and posted their responses on hburgnews to help us get to know the candidates better and decide which would get our votes. Questions were compiled from the HburgNews community and included topics such as: Meet the Candidates, Examples of Past Leadership, Under-Funded City Needs, Budget Cuts and Increases, the Local Economy, Eliminating Constitutional Offices, City-County Cooperation, Annexation, “Smart Growth”, Technological Future of the City, IPv6 Connectivity, Harrisonburg City’s Online Services, and Legacy. (whew!)

8 candidates were running for 3 City Council seats, and the Democrat candidates swept the city elections, creating the first democratically-controlled council “in a generation”. Kai Degner, a 28-year-old JMU graduate, won every precinct in Harrisonburg, and dems Richard Baugh and Dave Wiens clinched the other 2 available seats, defeating former City Manager Roger Baker, sitting Council member Charlie Chenault, attorney Tracy Evans, sitting Harrisonburg Mayor Rodney Eagle, and Planning Commissioner J.M. Snell. Ironically, the incumbent Republican losses were partially due to the large  number of JMU students voting in the City Council election due to the incumbents’ vote to combine the city elections with the presidential elections in November.

HburgNews also ran a Q&A for candidates for City Treasurer. Questions included “What does the City Treasurer Do?”, “Should Treasurers be elected?”, and “What needs to be changed in the Treasurer’s office?”. Jeffrey Shafer, who had been the appointed short-term replacement for embattled incumbent Rebecca Neal (see below) defeated Penny Paul Imeson and Bill Ney to win the City Treasurer position.


Mark Warner won the election for the Senator from Virginia handily with 65% of the vote in the state and 69% of the vote in Harrisonburg. Republican Bob Goodlatte won the House of Representatives seat with 62% of the vote in the state, though challenger Sam Rasoul won the vote in Harrisonburg City.


Harrisonburg resides in the traditionally “Red” Shenandoah Valley, but the buzz about Barack Obama here started early. First, Obama won the City and State in the democratic primaries over Hillary Clinton. Then, McCain started airing ads in the Harrisonburg area, indicating that a Republican win wasn’t a “sure thing” in this traditionally republican area. Obama surprised locals by opening a campaign office in downtown Harrisonburg in July, then another one in Bridgewater. Next, John McCain opened a Harrisonburg office. In September, we reported that a large Obama sign was defaced in the county, which strengthened local fears that Obama didn’t have the support to win here.

The following months brought visits of prominent Obama supporters, including former national counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke and retired General Wesley Clark. Senators John Warner and Lindsey Graham and Congressman Bob Goodlatte visited Harrisonburg in support of McCain. Next, senate candidate Mark Warner fully backed Obama, and CNN projected that Virginia would vote for the Democratic candidate for President for the first time in 44 years. John McCain had enjoyed a comfortable 9-point lead in the presidential race among Shenandoah Valley voters at the end of September, but by late October, his lead over Barack Obama had been reduced to only one point.

Then came the biggest surprise of all. On October 25, it was announced that Obama would be holding a rally with Senate Candidate Mark Warner and Governor Tim Kaine at James Madison University 3 days later on October 28, making him the first presidential candidate to visit Harrisonburg in almost 150 years. About 20,000 people attended the Obama rally at JMU. Barack Obama went on to win Harrisonburg City, several other independent cities in the Valley, the state of Virginia, and the Presidency of the United States.

Brent provided excellent coverage of Election Day, including live videos broadcast from the polls and after the polls closed, as well as a post-election analysis article with graphs.


Of course, there are many other HburgNews stories from the last year that I would like to feature here – but this post is already super-long so I’ll try to keep this part brief! I’ll just mention two of the most “controversial” stories not featured above – the “Neal Scandal” and the “Registrar Scandal”, and the nationwide/international story having a local effect – the economic crisis. If I missed other notable stories of 2008, please point them out in the comments!

Rebecca Neal was the Harrisonburg City Treasurer that was investigated in January, indicted in February, asked by the newspaper to resign, petitioned by citizens to resign, sued by the demoted whistleblower in April, and suspended from the office of Treasurer, before pleading guilty to misuse of public funds in May.

Debbie Logan is the Harrisonburg City Registrar that was criticized for her handling of voter registration prior to the November elections. First, approximately 18% of new voter registration forms were rejected for unspecified “irregularities”, many with a rejection letter sent very close to or after the registration deadline. Her office had participated in the controversial practice of discouraging college students from registering to vote locally, then it was alleged that she and her son were involved in a scheme to disenfranchise voters by “losing” applications. This may have led to Obama field organizer Camron being ineligible to vote in Harrisonburg and many other mostly young people claiming to have been unfairly rejected from registering to vote. The Registrar office’s staff is currently under “review”.

We have all been hearing in all of the national news outlets about the economic crisis going on in America and around the world. Economic woes in Virginia have led to major cuts to the state budget by Governor Tim Kaine, including a $5.4 million reduction at James Madison University. State budget cuts also led to Gemeinschaft, our local inmate-to-society therapeutic transition program, controversially being told to shut down by January 25, 2009.


According to Google Analytics, the site received an average of 425 visits per day in 2008. The top 5 posts by unique pageviews were:

  1. “Marketing the Message” about the mysterious Aletheia Church Signs (1,255)
  2. “Favorite Restaurants” in response to the EightyOne cover story about local eats (1,199)
  3. “Clementine Open” about the new restaurant downtown (1,039)
  4. “Fair Warning, or Voter Suppression?” about apparent efforts in VA and locally to discourage college students from voting in their college towns (1,029)
  5. “Possible H’burg Registrar Scandal?” about the strange allegations concerning our local voter registrar Debbie Logan and her son’s possible involvement in missing registration forms (990)

The top 5 posts by comment count were:

  1. “Marketing the Message” (140)
  2. “Free Clinic Says Adios to Undocumented Patients” (116)
  3. “Obama in Harrisonburg – Updated” (112)
  4. “Possible H’burg Registrar Scandal?” (111)
  5. “Obama Visit Open Thread” (105)

Let us know in the comments below what do you think was the most important news of the year, and what were your favorite HburgNews stories?

Oh, and Happy New Year!

10 Responses to “HburgNews – 2008 in Review”

  1. Thanh says:

    Great review of 2008 Renee! I forgot about some of the things you mentioned happening as having happened in 2008, and being reminded of them again makes me happy to see all the so many wonderful things happening in our community, all the dedicated people making it happen and those who are capturing and sharing these stories. Here’s to a great 2009!

  2. Renee says:

    Thanks, Thanh!

  3. The Valley Progressive says:

    I agree with Thanh, great post Renee! This obviously took a lot of time and thought. Classy and well done! Have a great New Year!

  4. Nancy says:

    Renee, Your mother says Happy New Year. Love, MOM

  5. Renee says:

    Thanks, VP!

    And thanks, MOM! Haha Is this your first-ever comment on a blog? :)

  6. Thanh says:

    One other notable thing in 2008: The Turner Pavillion (Harrisonburg Farmers Market Pavillion) was completed.

  7. Renee says:

    Oh yeah, I meant to include that with the downtown section – thanks, Thanh!

  8. The Valley Progressive says:

    As an aside, what are the winter hours of the Farmer’s Market? And on average, how many vendors are there?

  9. Emmy says:

    Winter hours are the 2nd and 4th Saturdays from 9am until noon through March.

    Not sure about how many vendors there are during the winter. I wasn’t able to go to the ones they had in December.

  10. The Valley Progressive says:

    Thanks for the info, I can’t wait to check it out.

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