Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” famous opening line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” could be a mantra for both the outgoing year of 2008 and the incoming 2009.
Dickens’ historical novel focused on the violent political and cultural upheavals centered around the French Revolution, giving hope to the underclass and despair to the ruling class, but the national events of the past few months also may be classified as some “best” and “worst” of times.
Certainly one of the best was the November election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. His message of hope and change captured the hearts of tens of millions of Americans who rallied to his side and elected the first person of color to lead this nation. It was especially exciting in Virginia, where people who had never before participated in elective politics were eager to volunteer, register, and vote, to turn the Commonwealth “blue” for the first time since 1964.
The worst, with which almost everyone probably can agree, was the financial meltdown of Wall Street and the accompanying economic tsunami that wiped away decades of economic theory and questioned the role of government regulators. Was it greed? Was it inattention? Was it criminal? The answer, in some degree, to all these questions is yes. What to do about it, and how to rebuild our economy and our trust, are unanswered, and present a huge challenge to the new Obama administration.
There were some bests and worsts for Fairfax County, too. Heading the list in both categories is the long-anticipated Rail to Dulles project. Earlier in the year, the federal government pulled the plug on funding for the project, but a late autumn turn-around by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters put the project back on track. Utility work has begun in Tysons Corner and construction equipment is on the way.
Other bests for Fairfax County included preservation of more affordable housing units for lower and middle income residents. Sunset Manor Apartments in the Skyline area were renovated and renamed Carrousel Court, and Wedgewood Apartments in the Braddock District were preserved through the county’s One Penny for Affordable Housing Fund. Dozens of sidewalk and bus shelter projects got underway, funded by the Transportation Bond approved by voters in 2007.
A list of worsts has to include the surprise ice storm late on Primary Day, February 12. The evening rush was hours long as drivers were stranded on overpasses and poorly treated roads, and many voters missed getting to the polls on their way home. That experience was tempered by the best turnout in the General Election in many years: 77.5 percent of Mason District voters cast a ballot on November 4, and 5,000 people voted absentee in person at the Mason District Governmental Center in the three weeks prior to Election Day.
Depending on who’s counting, best and worst lists may differ, but one thing is certain: I hope our best is coming, and our worst will soon be a dim memory. Happy New Year!