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2012 Top Ten Most Intriguing Local Stories

Marriage Equality, Oriole fever, Stormy weather, Reality reporting, Audits, and more

Photo: J.M. Giordano, License: N/A

J.M. Giordano

1. Maryland wins race to equality

1. Maryland wins race to equality (well, ties). For nearly 30 years, Maryland had the distinction of being the first state to enact legislation defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. This year, it reversed course, joining Maine and Washington state in becoming the first to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum. The outcome on Nov. 6 also produced another “first”—Maryland passed the DREAM Act referendum, allowing the children of illegals to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, the first state in the country to do so. For many Free Staters on Facebook, Nov. 7 started with a posting: “Proud to be a Marylander.” (Van Smith)

2. Oriole fever epidemic returns. The Baltimore Orioles’ 20th season at Camden Yards was the first winning one since 1997, but for fans, at times, it almost felt like 1983 all over again, when the O’s last won the World Series. Going to, watching, or listening—with near-religious zeal—to games played in September and October was been a rare treat for fans, and certainly preferable to the self-loathing fascination they had when the Orioles, in 1988, made major-league history by losing their first 21 games of the season. While falling in the postseason to the New York Yankees was a bitter pill to swallow, it did little to cure the “Orioles fever” that took hold in 2012. (VS)

3. Stormy weather. We collectively learned what a “derecho” is—a giant straight-line wind storm associated with severe thunderstorms—when one ripped through Maryland on the evening of June 29, its wrath, wrought by 70-plus mile-per-hour wind gusts unleashed by a series of fast-moving thunderstorms, knocked out more than a million Maryland customers’ power and left debris and damage all over the state, prompting a state of emergency. In its aftermath, many homes were dark for more than a week, and utility companies had to answer to regulators about storm-preparedness as the power infrastructure’s frailties were brought into high relief. While the derecho—which claimed 22 lives and caused hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of insured damages—hit harder locally, it paled in comparison to October’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 131 people (including two in Maryland) and caused upwards of $10 billion in damage. (VS)

4. Reality reporting. It took years for Frank James MacArthur to make a name for himself in local media with his “Baltimore Spectator” blog and internet-radio show. He volunteered for the Investigative Voice, bought shifts on WOLB, got to crime scenes ahead of some mainstream reporters, and cultivated a persona one part worldly wise, one part braggart, and two parts paranoiac. Then, on Dec. 2, he hit the big time, broadcasting his negotiation with a police lieutenant after SWAT surrounded his home. Wanted on a probation violation for a gun charge, MacArthur stalled and pleaded, threatened and promised for hours before finally walking out at 11 P.M. He doubled his Twitter following, but sympathy went mostly to the cops. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

5. Audit? We don’t need no stinkin’ audit. This year’s local-government shocker was that no one’s been keeping tabs on City Hall spending—at some agencies, like the Department of Recreation and Parks, even the thought of attempting audits brings whining and crying. The City Council’s attempts to address this oversight in the government-oversight function were laughably lame, and it ended up gutting the resulting bill to the point of uselessness. Nonetheless, the measure went before voters as a referendum question, and passed, but whether it makes any difference—or can be made to make any difference—remains to be seen. But at least now there’s something on the books requiring something resembling audits every four years, which is a start. (VS)

6. You are what you eat. A spate of cannibalistic assaults and murders in May and June sparked uneasy jokes about a world-wide “zombie apocalypse.” There was Rudy Eugene, the “Miami Bath Salts” face-eater (who, in fact, had not ingested bath salts); a guy in New Jersey who tried to throw his own guts at police; a Texas woman who ate her baby’s brain; a Swedish researcher who ate his wife’s lips; Luka Rocco Magnotta, a Canadian porn actor who filmed himself eating his murdered lover; and, right here in Joppa, Alexander Kinyua, a Morgan State University student who allegedly dismembered his housemate and ate parts of his brain and all of his heart. (EE)

7. Murder by numbers. As the new year dawned, police asked for help in tracking down the person who stabbed Mary Hines, of the 2500 block of East Biddle Street, to death and then set her 84-year-old body on fire to destroy evidence of the crime. By this time, the “clearance rate”—the percentage of killings in which an arrest was made—had fallen into the mid-40 percent range. When it did not improve in subsequent months, former Sun reporter David Simon pointed out that police had lost the right to unilaterally charge murder suspects, now needing the explicit permission from the State’s Attorney’s office—a fact Gregg Bernstein, incredibly, denies. Just how many unarrested killers got the chance to kill again in 2012 is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely to be more than a couple. Hines’ murder remains unsolved. (EE)

8. Seeing red on speed cameras. The city’s speed camera system, one of the largest in the nation, spits out inaccurate tickets and is meant to enhance revenue more than public safety. The Sun’s Scott Calvert and Luke Broadwater did the investigation this fall, though a blogger had been ranting for years, compiling stories about dead cops signing off on tickets, cameras calibrated to the wrong speed limit, and other shenanigans. Even City Council President Jack Young, during the summer’s tense budget battle, pointed out that the mayor’s budget projections for the speed and red-light cameras were millions too low—the better to make a contingency fund. Investigations continue. (EE)

9. Infrastructure crumble. The city has 4,000 miles of water mains under its roads, and an average of three pipes break every day, cutting off service to unlucky residents, flooding streets, and sometimes causing sinkholes to form under streets. The street drainage and sewer lines are no better, often 100 years old and just as apt to break. Monument Street has been closed for months because of an epic series of breaks, and houses are now collapsing near Patterson Park because of unknown water flows. The city’s infrastructure is kaput and needs billi0ns in repairs. Stories of street-level disasters and increasing bills will dominate the news for years to come. (EE)

10. New sheriff in town. When Martin O’Malley was mayor from 1999 to 2007, Baltimore burned through police commissioners like a well-heeled crack fiend; four—Ron Daniel, Ed Norris, Kevin Clark, and Leonard Hamm—served at his pleasure. When Sheila Dixon took over at City Hall in 2007, she picked one of the force’s most venerable veterans, Fred Bealefeld, who stayed five years, until September—as long as Thomas Frazier did as Kurt Schmoke’s last commissioner in the 1990s—and managed an unlikely distinction: overseeing sustained crime reduction in a city that had grown used to the opposite. In one sense, then, Bealefeld’s successor, Anthony Batts, who came here from Oakland, Calif., has the luxury of taking over a force that’s accustomed to making headway. In another sense, though, Batts is encumbered with the high expectation that things can continue to improve in a city that persistently ranks among the nation’s most crime-ridden. (VS)

Read More 2012 Top Ten

Top Ten Most Intriguing Local Stories | Top Ten Films | Jed Dietz and Eric Allen Hatch’s Top Ten Films | Top Ten Home Video | Top Ten Albums | Top Ten Local Albums | Top Ten Releases by Genre | Top Ten Shows | Top Ten Fiction | Atomic Books’ Top Ten Bestsellers | Top Ten Non-Fiction | Top Ten Art Shows | Gary Kachadourian’s Top Ten Art Shows | Top Ten Stage | Top Ten Restaurants | Top Ten Twelve Wines

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