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The Best of Richmond

Best thing to happen to Richmond in the past year

So what if its opening was marred by controversy? Who cares if people boycott? In your book, Richmond, the newly opened Canal Walk is an unqualified smash hit. Even though local polls indicate that most of you support keeping a mural of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee up on the floodwall, his absence hasn't bothered you enough to keep you away. And how could it? With its inviting brick walkways, its smooth-as-glass waterway, the charm of the touristy canal boats and its access to the mighty James, the 1.8-mile Canal Walk could finally be the big winner downtown Richmond's been waiting for. But now that they've built it, will the restaurants and shops come? Stay tuned. This is where it gets interesting.

Best political double talker

Serving a two-year federal prison sentence for influence peddling and fraud, former Mayor and city Councilman Leonidas Young exemplifies hypocrisy. While daring to publicly call himself an advocate for those who have the least, the former minister of Fourth Baptist privately wiped out the life savings of a dying elderly woman in his congregation. And conspiring with his wily mayoral aide Joel Harris, Young made thousands more from bribery schemes. Why? To pay for his extramarital affairs.

All the while decrying his innocence, Young now repents in a series of interviews from prison. Given his track record, people truly have to ask if he's seeking forgiveness or trying to promote the new ministry he founded in the wake of his scandalous downfall.

Tellingly, Gov. Jim Gilmore earned a close second in this category. Perhaps you're angry about his adamant "no car tax" campaign, which of course meant "some car tax" for the next five years. Or, maybe it was his stands against school violence while he also campaigns for the National Rifle Association

Best-behaved public official

By your reckoning, Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine deserves this title head and shoulders above any other state or local official. Certainly, Kaine has maintained his composure and gee-whiz boy-next-door smile through a tumultuous first year as mayor that has included former mayor Leonidas Young resigning from Council and being sent to federal prison; public ire over Kaine's handpicked city manager candidate, Calvin Jamison; and the racial firestorm resulting over Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin's opposition to displaying the Robert E. Lee Mural along the Canal Walk.

And in a city where the aforementioned tensions are always threatening to swallow any political debate or public discourse, the affable, liberal Kaine easily strides the lines of race, staking out a position as a soothing advocate of peace.

Behaving properly is "the first thing you have to do" as a politician, Kaine believes. But he quips, "I've got a very strong-willed wife and that helps me be very well-behaved."

Best influence peddler

Who can pull strings and get things done? Grocery and banking mogul Jim Ukrop, you say.

His influential, multiracial conservative political-action group, the Coalition For A Greater Richmond, puts its weight behind City Council candidates with impressive results. In the last election, six of its eight endorsed candidates won election to Council. In the election before that, eight of eight won. (The coalition notably refused to endorse former Mayor Leonidas Young, who was running unopposed.)

"I think it's greatly overestimated," Ukrop says. "I think I've asked for very little influence and have very little influence over what takes place in the city." However, he adds that he does want the most qualified candidates to emerge, no matter what their political beliefs, so they can "make decisions that are best for our community and not special interests."

In distant second, you chose former mayor Leonidas Young, who is currently serving a two-year federal prison sentence for literally peddling his influence to various contractors who wanted to do business with the city.

Best boss or CEO

For those of you who still need jobs and didn't make millions off Internet IPOs this year, the best boss in Richmond is Ukrop's Super Markets, according to Style Weekly readers.

Well-known for its customer-first service, Ukrop's also has a long-standing reputation for valuing its workers. For instance, each year, 20 percent of the company's pretax profits are shared with part-time and full-time associates. Furthermore, Ukrop's matches $400 a year in educational savings funds and will award $80,000 in scholarships to employees and their children this year. And that doesn't even mention its famous school-friendly scheduling for workers in high school and college.

"It's not a credit to us but to all of the good people who work for us," Ukrop's President and CEO Bobby Ukrop says in typically humble fashion. "People must assume they have a good boss because of the way our customers are treated in our stores."

Best place to be in Richmond when the power goes out

A little imagination, people, is that too much to ask? OK, some of you really thought about it. One reader decided the best place to be in a major power meltdown was at the Richmond Candle Company. Cute. Someone else, who is apparently not lactose intolerant, said they'd like to be in the dairy aisle at Ukrop's. One respondent wants simply to be "with Mary." Awww. And another, perhaps with a guilty conscience, hopes that moment comes right when they are in the electric chair. But for the vast, boring majority of you, when that ball drops and heralds in the Y2K bug, shutting down mainframes and communications networks and distribution systems, you'd rather be home. Zzzzzzzzz.

Best place of worship

One thing is certain — Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is sacred to the hearts of voters, winning best place to get your prayer on again this year. Carol Heitt, Minister of Christian Formation, says the Cathedral's popularity results from a diverse congregation that brings "excitement and vibrancy."

"Our worship does serve many people," says the Rev. Msgr. Charles Kelley. "We have a welcome for everyone."

First Baptist placed a close second, losing by only three votes.

Some of the more unusual responses include the river, Hollywood Cemetery, and Maymont Park. One voter thinks the best religion flows from a bottle at the Bamboo Café. Another reader, who wrote "we don't have a Ferrari dealership," thinks the best vehicle to heaven is a high-powered Italian sports car.

Best way to spend $100 in Richmond

Most shoppers who frequent Carytown would agree that squandering a hundred dollar bill - or several of them — in the trendy shopping area is an easy task and so that swanky strip of shops tops our poll in this category. Buy an outfit at one of the many boutiques along the street or save some money and sneak upstairs at Annette Dean's to visit the outlet. If you'd rather fill your entire house instead of just your closet, visit the Storehouse for tables and Anthill Antiques Etc. or 10,000 Villages for trinkets. Some of Schwarzschild's Swarovski crystal animals, including squirrels, butterflies, dogs and cats, cost less than $100. Or lose your money and gain some weight buying three Vermonsters at Ben and Jerry's for $29.95 each. Each is served in a plastic bucket with 20 scoops of ice cream, four bananas, four ladles of hot fudge, three chocolate chip cookies, one brownie, 10 scoops of walnuts, two scoops of four toppings of your choice and whipped cream. Use the extra money on a visit to the local gym.

Best place to live if you're single

A no-brainer. With its funky old Victorians, its proximity to everything cool and its high percentage of students, the Fan is the place to hang your hat, if you've only got one hat to hang. Shockoe Bottom came in a distant second. We did like a few other answers, though, for their humor — intended or not. One person said Jamaica was the best place to live if you're single, and another likes the Village Ukrop's — "Just give me a tent." But frankly, we were weirded out by the person who wrote that the best place to live if you're single is "with mom." We couldn't exactly make out the handwriting on that entry but the last name might have been

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