This year has been absolutely heart-wrenchingly devastating for so many people, so many families, so many businesses. In short, 2020 has been the WORST.
However, we must still find moments of levity, lest we all get sucked into the abyss of despair. And, if we’re being honest, sometimes it’s also rewarding to call out and shame the people who have made truly terrible decisions, those who are reaping what they have sown or getting what they deserve, and the organizations that are making our lives personally, professionally, and collectively more difficult. Sometimes, we just need to say, “what an asshole,” or, “that’s a dick move,” and shake our heads. It’s like letting out a string of swear words when you stub your toe. Does it change things? No. Does it make you feel better? Definitely.
This year’s WORST list feels a little heavier because so many of the entries have literal life or death consequences. Consider this your annual reminder to continue to be a better steward of our community.
— Jessica Hammie, Managing Editor
Photo by Anna Longworth.
WORST thing to do during a pandemic: Have a prom, or a wedding
Sweet baby Jesus, the “unofficial” Mahomet prom is among the stupidest, most selfish things I have witnessed in my life. People got sick. Those sick people then went to their jobs, where other people were exposed to sickness. The entitlement of these parents to organize such an event, and the audacity of the police chief to ignore it, are truly vomit-inducing.
The same goes for all the jerks who had large weddings, and the venues that hosted them. COVID-19 is not the fucking flu. Shame on all of you. May you never have to watch your loved one gasp for their final breaths through FaceTime because you can’t visit them in the hospital. (JH)
Photo by Steven Pratten.
WORST election outcome: Rodney Davis is still our representative
I think we need to face facts here. We live in a red district, and Champaign County does not have representation in Congress. We are a blue dot swimming in a sea of red. Rodney Davis has proved himself to be nothing but a feckless excuse for a leader, touting fake bipartisanship and silencing opponents with his harping against “vitriolic rhetoric”, all while toeing the Trump line time and time again. He won’t even acknowledge Biden as President-elect. And yet, we are stuck with him for two more years. Again. (JM)
Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
WORST collateral damage of the pandemic: All the restaurants that closed
The pandemic has really made a lot of things suck. Restaurants have been hit especially hard with the state restrictions, and many have struggled to remain open. This year, we’ve seen the closing of several C-U eateries: Bossa Nova, Hank’s Table, Merry Ann’s in Urbana, Pekara Downtown, Rosati’s Pizza, and Zorba’s. It’s sad to see places close; our community is better with a vibrant foodie scene. Keep ordering carryout from your favorite restaurants, and order extra, so you have leftovers but also so you are supporting the places you want to see make it through this sucky year. I can only hope that there aren’t more closures coming. (AB)
Photo from Facebook.
WORST piece of apparel worn by a politician: Trump socks worn by Jim Goss, Champaign County Board
How is it that on some days, you wake up in the morning, and out of the goodness of your heart, you direct people to plant a whole field of sunflowers to brighten everyone’s lives during a wicked pandemic. And yet, on others, you choose to wear these socks.
I am lost, man. I really am. It's these kind of mental gymnastics that makes politics so draining these days.
Like, you have to understand how weird that is for all of us, watching from home, staying distant from one another like we were asked. You are an elected official, and we expect more of you.
I am not even talking about what your little fella on the elastic band represents. I am just talking about your socks.
This is what we need to talk about.
Piece of advice from me, Jim; a person you’ve never met, but might one day: stick to the sunflowers. They truly warm the heart. They look good on you, too, and your family wants your heart to be happy. This kind of rebellion, this particular brand of anger is just going to lead to LIPITOR ®, if you are lucky. (SF)
Photo from Black Rose/Rosa Negra's Facebook.
WORST human: Michael Long, Rogue Barber Co.
In our BEST feature for this year, we pointed out the best human, Julie Pryde, of course. You rule, Julie.
What is the exact opposite of Julie Pryde? It is Michael Long, owner of Rogue Barber Co., and lemme tell you, he wasn't tough to spot.
If there's anything that the pandemic has brought out of the woodwork, it is terrible people that don't give a shit about anyone but themselves. These people have total disregard for any type of decency or respect for others in our community. And no, we aren't even talking about defying orders or not wearing masks. It had everything to do with the power of the Black Lives Matter movement, which Long didn't seem to care for very much.
The fact that the now-defunct Rogue Barber Co. was operating under the guise of being for “members only” was the first red flag. There's a big difference between a "membership" at, say, a gym, and being a "member" at Rogue Barber Co. In order to be a member at Rogue Barber Co., you had to start by signing a document essentially admitting you are a racist and support the same type of ideals that Proud Boys uphold.
Indeed, when you own your own business and choose to move forward by accepting membership in this capacity, you are asking to get lit up for it, and for good reason. Good riddance. (PS)
Photo by Jessica Hammie.
WORST hemming and hawing: C-U schools
Earlier this year, in the warm months, when Champaign and Urbana schools began conversations about what to do come fall, I don’t think anyone necessarily expected them to be so…extra, as the kids say. Deciding how and when and where kids and teachers would return to school was not easy; there were very few “good” choices. In person! Hybrid! No, remote! Only some kids in person! Unit 4 and District 116 could not seem to get their acts together to make a comprehensive, thoughtful, safe plan for K-12 kiddos and families.
Our community is very intimately connected, since we do not have a diverse job industry. Most people are employed by Carle or Christie, the University of Illinois, or Kraft, so when three of those four employers are ones where employees regularly encounter many other people, it’s concerning to think that they could pass COVID to their kids, who can then potentially infect other kids, who could potentially infect other employees, who could then potentially infect co-workers in the healthcare or education systems. Not ideal.
Ultimately things worked out as best as they could, mostly, and kids have been doing the best they can under these circumstances. Parents and teachers (and kids, too) suffered a lot of anxiety for many weeks. There are no easy solutions to this particular problem, but let’s hope the school districts learned some lessons and planning moves forward more smoothly. (JH)
Photo of Loeffler (left) by Getty Images, Atlas (right) by NPR Illinois by Evan Vucci/AP.
WORST U of I grads: Scott Atlas and Kelly Loeffler
One advocated for herd immunity, called on the people of Michigan to “rise up” against their governor, and discouraged mask-wearing. The other profited from inside knowledge of the pandemic, selling off over $1 million in stocks just before the market crashed.
Surely U of I has spawned other shitty excuses for people, but in 2020, these two top the charts. (JM)
Photo by Jessica Hammie.
WORST pandemic response: Restaurants in defiance of public health regulations
Restaurants that defy the public health rules (that all the other restaurants are following) are the worst, simple as that. Listen, I know things are tough for restaurants, but we’re in a global pandemic where the daily death rate in our country is in the thousands. In addition, restaurant owners and staff without masks (or in masks below their nose!) are also the assholes here. How hard is it to keep your aerosols to yourself? Oh, and if the restaurant at which you’re dining has an outdoor tent that is fully enclosed, guess what: you are now offering indoor dining. (AB)
Photo from Merry Ann's Diner's Facebok page.
WORST restaurateur: Katie Pomonis, Merry Ann’s Diner
I am not sure that Katie Pomonis, the owner of the last remaining Merry Ann’s Diner, is the absolute WORST restaurateur in town. That is really and truly subjective. I can think of a pretty decent sized list of people right now who own restaurants that could probably compete with her. I hate the idea of even having the opportunity to name one.
I don't have to, of course. But I think we have to get down to it.
I guess I am simply asking her to shut it down. And for no other reason than for the legacy of her late husband, Anastase Pomonis, or to the rest of us who knew him, and loved him, or were inspired by him, just, Stacy.
All told, he owned or operated over two dozen restaurants, bars, diners, and joints here in Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding area: The Brown Jug, Chuck Wagon, Pia's, Alley Cat, Chicago's, Illini Inn, Towne Hall, Autumn Tree, Act 4 Pizza Parlor, Catfish King, Maple's, Willie's Pizza, Taffies, and yes, Merry Ann’s.
Five different Merry Ann’s, to be sure, over time.
The one on Neil next to the train tracks is the last one standing, eight years after his passing. This is the one that refuses to shut down due to the pandemic, that has been willing to accept fines from the CUPHD, and that continues to place its customers and staff in harm’s way.
Moreover, she is disrespecting the very woman whose name adorns the diner. Merry Ann Pomonis was Stacy’s first wife and partner and mother to their three children; she died of breast cancer when those kids were still, in fact, kids. The diner was named for her after her death, the same year she passed. He did this to honor her life, and to give him and his kids the courage to move forward. As a family, together.
You were part of that of that history. You still are.
So, please just stop. The same goes for the rest of your ilk, too. Right now, everyone who works in the service industry is taking a big hit. Everyone. It sucks, and we all feel it, and we all share in your anger. But at least you get to still sell something, still get to scrape together a buck or two doing take out.
Y'all aren't in the live events business. You don't even know what a "total shutdown" looks like. So with respect, please. Just, please stop for real.
People love your diner for more reasons than just the Stack, Katie. Please respect that. You are putting yourself over everyone else, right now. And you are going to get someone killed, if you haven't already. (SF)
Image from the internet.
WORST people on the internet: Commenters who think they are epidemiologists
The Facebook comments on local news outlet stories are always one of the worst places on the internet. This year, all of those terrible people have suddenly become epidemiologists, or at least they think they know more than epidemiologists. The misinformation that people spew in the comments is at best laughable and at worst, dangerous. A scroll through the comments of any WCIA or News-Gazette post related to COVID-19 is a stark reminder of why our country has utterly failed at responding to the pandemic. (JM)
Photo from Champaign County Realty LLC's Facebook post.
WORST realization: the total collapse of arts venues in Champaign is now complete
Now that the Orpheum is officially closed, the collapse is complete.
Welcome to Champaign.
Can someone please explain to me how this keeps getting ignored at a municipal level by the Champaign City Council? Maybe someone can — surely you know who you are — but every time they have been confronted with it over the past five years, they either ignore it, or they get all performative like they are such huge supporters of the arts personally, how dare we speak to them this way?
Literally, Kelly White, the executive director of 40 North, presents reports to them on this year after year, exhausted, yet grateful. And while asking for a pittance to bring some good, decent arts programming to Downtown Champaign, she gets the third degree? They don't truly listen. They don’t actually engage a discussion. They just like to see her dance, it seems.
Maybe a new look city council that is destined to be seated come May 2021 will take a more measured and decisive approach to this.
There are ZERO active performance venues in Champaign. Literally, ZERO. That means none. That means nada.
Zilch, zip, ZERO.
Do not come at me about City Center or Clark Bar or Huber’s or wherever you saw a live band perform recently. Do not attempt to spar with me about what defines an “active” venue.
Yes we have theaters, and museums, and galleries, but please do not point to places like Krannert Art Museum, or the Virginia Theater, or Giertz Gallery at Parkland. They are not yours. They are ours, and we are deeply thankful for that, as they are taxpayer funded, to large degrees.
I rest my case.
Over the past two decades, I have listened to council members and mayors discuss this very topic, and in a lot of different contexts. The city managers, economic development staff, and city planners all want this type of line item to work on. But the council never prioritizes it. They seem to believe that the free market will manage, and will correct itself; that it is not the role of the city government to provide any kind of comprehensive assistance in this amenity to the people, according to its voting members.
At least, not in any significant way.
Please note that the City of Champaign does not have a Public Arts Commission. Urbana does. Please also check out the difference by seeking out where the "art" happens now.
We are going to come out of this pandemic, and when we do, there will be almost nothing to do in the western half of this weird split city. That's the half with three times the economic activity as the other. Oh sure, you will be able to wash down your meal with a beverage at whatever restaurants are left, but you aren’t going to be able to see or hear or touch or look at anything of much value in Champaign before or after you enjoy Farren's or Black Dog or Neil St. Blues, if those joints can survive.
And that is a shame.
Just a decade ago, it was different. Now, it is all gone. And while that fact is most definitely not the Champaign City Council's fault, it is now their responsibility to address it, and identify ways to help rectify it.
This is embarrassing. (SF)
Photo by Anna Longworth.
WORST leadership: Local police and government officials
Leading during a pandemic and a racial justice movement of this magnitude is an extremely difficult job. Being a police officer or mayor or city council person comes with great responsibility. However, ever since Trump uttered the “both sides” nonsense in regards to Charlottesville, we see sycophants line up and behave the same way.
When Bob Asmussen said “all of us” are to blame for how poorly the pandemic has been handled, this is precisely where we draw the line between right and wrong. It was such a disappointing year if you were hoping to see some good work to unify the communtiy. Instead, we had city leadership showing up at rallies to "support the police" and some empty performative efforts during the Black Lives Matter movement.
Let's just say that a mural on the street isn't going to solve problems. That's nice and all, but that's not how you rebuild trust. That's not how you can help citizens.
What police leadership in Mahomet did was wrong. What the City of Champaign did in response to the graffiti outside of Rogue Barber Co. was wrong. What Champaign Police Department did in response to vandalism at the PD was wrong. Putting thin blue line emblems on taxpayer property is wrong. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
There is a reason, no matter what type of leadership we have in C-U, that the police force does not get defunded in any significant way. Some simple explanations for why nothing happened there is because of the information in the aforementioned article, as well as the election we just had, and the one we’re about to have in April.
There are people that need real help now. Giving money to small businesses is great, and there were some positives this year that helped, but that is not going to solve any issues with police brutality and accountability in our community. There’s certainly been some action in both Urbana and Champaign, but not even remotely enough to work towards a better future for our Black and Brown community members, who are often dismissed. Their lives depend on the right and wrong actions of these leaders. There was a lot of wrong this year right in the thick of the moment where there could have been so much made a little bit more right.
Instead, most of them are sitting back devising a plan on how they will get re-elected in April, or another political scheme with no action for communtiy members, because that’s what they do.
If they wanted to prove us wrong, they would've done it already. (PS)
Photo from Facebook.
WORST doctor: Dr. Tom Pliura
It is pretty easy to spot an opportunist. Dr. Tom Pliura took the opportunity to try to make some quick dough when he rushed out COVID-19 tests before public health leaders approved it.
When COVID-19 tests were just starting to enter the lexicon of reality earliler in the pandemic, Dr. Tom Pliura was rushing to launch his own testing station. At the time, public health leadership wasn't on board given the nature of the process with state health officials as well.
Sure enough, he started administering tests, and posting the results on social media with names blurred, which isn't the best look. There is a small part of me that does believe Dr. Pliura had somewhat decent intentions, but it got out of hand. There hasn't really been a consistent theme nationwide about trusting the process due to Trump's rhetoric. So when someone starts waving around test results, you wonder why that is happening, or why it is allowed to happen in the first place.
It seems more likely that Dr. Pliura wanted to raise his profile and get people’s attention so he could earn a bit off of a lot of legitimately frightened people needing tests as the pandemic bucked its head. And he's still out there, working away, doing his thing, being the type of doctor that downplays COVID-19 deaths. (PS)
Photo from Champaign County Democrats' Facebook page.
WORST ongoing fight: Democratic Party of Champaign County
I officially feel the same about the Democratic Party as I do about the God of Abraham in the Bible.
There’s just too much nonsense for me. In fact, most of the people I know feel the same. We all grew up this way; we all believe! But no one is getting baptized, no one wants to go to Hebrew school; if we did, we sorta wish we hadn't. It's just... dysfunctional.
Nationally, that dysfunction has been on display for some time. Locally, it's started to ramp up, and I, for one, would like to see it come to an end, and fast.
Look, I am not here to point the finger and blame people. I am genuine when I state that I am deeply grateful any time anyone runs for office. I only vote for Dems these days, as a rule, and for obvious reasons, but even I can respect the idea of any name on any ballot. This is a bold and courageous thing to do, and it deserves commendation.
But the Democrats literally just grabbed power in Champaign County for the first time... ever, really. I mean, there've been moments of flirtation if you dive back real deep, but by and large, this was a Republican county for decades.
I mean, you all remember right? The local GOP was dunking on the Dems like Jerome fucking Lane.
Now it has flipped; this is domination. Nice work, Dems. You did it. The GOP is an awful party, and they deserve exactly what they get as far as I am concerned.
So, can the “fractured” piece of the party, run by the older, more "established" Dems who have spent years in office stop trying to foul at the end of the game? This "other" faction you are perpetuating is a bad look. This is what can happen when you caucus with the other side and try to go behind the backs of people who thought you were teammates. It was a risk, and you lost. Badly.
But I do not besmirch your shortcomings! I celebrate your successes. This current crop of young Dems wouldn’t be in a position to run the table the way they have without your years of leadership and steadfast commitment to the process.
But to that end, can the younger and more progressive set end the poking and prodding now? You made your t-shirts; but demonizing the character of your fellow Dems, even the two-faced Dems, isn’t going to bring anyone the broad coalition we need to finally dissolve the wicked agenda that the GOP keeps spewing from its gullet. The bullying on social media, admonishing these people and their history in the community, won’t better design the sort of future we need.
All this does is give the GOP and thick skulled media types like Jim Dey the ammunition they need to stick around longer. Collectively, you come together and you would likely never lose, moving forward. So, if you can, please try to figure it out.
No matter how you fight it, in twenty to thirty some odd years from now, there will be people in your position looking to do to you what you just did to them. This is the way.
Always better to pass the torch gracefully than try to light a fucker on fire. (SF)
Alyssa Buckley, Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer contributed to this article.