2013 TOP TEN BIGGEST LOCAL NEWS STORIES

City Paper's Top Ten

2013 Top Ten Biggest Local News Stories

2013 Top Ten Biggest Local News Stories (June 19, 2014)

 1. Black Guerrilla Family prison scandal erupts. When the year opened with one prison scandal—a case targeting nine correctional officers (COs) who allegedly covered up a retaliatory beating of an inmate—a second one was beyond prediction. Come April, though, it hit—and hard. The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang allegedly had taken over jails in Baltimore City, calling the shots in ways usually reserved for wardens. The initial round snared 13 COs, followed in November with a new round of charges in the same racketeering case that added another 14 COs to the dirty list—for a total, tallying all federal charges involving COs in Maryland this year, of 42. It’s enough to make a governor-cum-presidential candidate run for cover. (Van Smith) Photo: ATF works with Baltimore City Police in a raid on BGF locations. J. M. Giordano
2. Murders spike. By June 26 the city’s murder rate had increased by almost 9 percent over 2012—enough that Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was On The Street, talking to people (and surrounded by the usual phalanx of brass, bodyguards, and members of the press). Remarkably, even after many press conferences, the rate remained high and, as of this writing, we’re still more than 5 percent ahead of last year’s rate. There is no way to know just why Baltimore’s murder rate increased this year, but it’s not out of bounds to notice that this happened at the same time federal prosecutors were dismantling the largest and best-organized (alleged) drug gang in Baltimore: the Black Guerrilla Family. As one of its (alleged) members also worked for Safe Streets, supposedly defusing impending crimes, one can only wonder if, paradoxically, the power of organized crime had kept the knuckleheads partly in check. (Edward Ericson Jr.) Photo by J. M. Giordano
3. Ravens win Super Bowl. After a four-season run making the playoffs, the Ravens got to the Super Bowl, a dozen years after winning their inaugural bid. A family affair, with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh facing his younger brother, Jim, who called the shots for the San Francisco 49ers, at first the game in New Orleans was shaping up to be a snoozer. But after an early third-quarter power outage, when the Ravens were winning 28-6, the 49ers returned refreshed, mining points like gold— to no avail, in the end. Rest assured, with their 34-31 win, the Ravens will long be remembered by San Franciscans as the team that took away the 49ers’ five-Super Bowl status as undefeated champions. (VS) Photo by J. M. Giordano
4. Harbor Point development sparks storm. A “Greek drama” that played out over environmental contamination and tax breaks was substantially about office glut, as Peter Angelos—owner of a substantial bit of the city’s downtown core—helped stoke outrage about the hundreds of millions in tax breaks the city is giving to the developer of Harbor Point. John Paterakis bowed out of the project early, leaving his second, Michael Beatty, to absorb the taunts of city residents who see little benefit to the federal Enterprise Zone funds that will buoy the huge waterfront development’s luxury condos and retail outlets. Residents—and the EPA—are looking hard at the plan to bore through caps that cover long-dormant chromium under the site. (EEJ) Photo by Edward J. Ericson
5. Alonso resigns. During his six-year tenure as CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, Dr. Andres Alonso came to be hailed as something of a savior by local officials—and even The New York Times, which wrote a glowing profile—for improving test scores, decentralizing administration, giving principals more power, and giving parents more choices. He resigned in May, leaving Tisha Edwards as interim CEO, but not before the state’s General Assembly, in April, approved a long-term rebuilding scheme he helped create. The plan earmarks state aid for buildings and repair to repay $1.1 billion in bonds over 30 years, even though the work is estimated to cost $2.4 billion. Modeled on the plan for an expanding rural South Carolina county implemented in the 1990s—which resulted in a 25 percent cost overrun—Baltimore City is banking on school construction with borrowed funds to help drive economic and population growth in the coming decades. Only time will tell if Alonso’s legacy is a blessing or curse to city schools. (EEJ) Photo by J. M. Giordano
6. The Senator reopens. Shortly after then-owner Tom Kiefaber announced in March 2009 that for the first time in 70 years the Senator Theatre would stop screening first-run films after its final show of The Watchmen, the screen went dark, a victim of financial failings. This fall, after years of renovations by the Senator’s new owners—James “Buzz” Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen Cusack Lyon—the first-runs started running again, only this time on more screens. Whereas the old Senator was, as a single-screen theater, a Methuselah on borrowed time, now its big screen has three smaller siblings, perhaps making it a contender in the shrinking film-exhibition pie. If so, here’s to the Senator having more glory days to come. (VS)
7. Police target DIY clubs. Police are assigned to keep the peace, but in Baltimore they’ve expanded their mission. All summer and fall, cops have busted up reportedly low-key parties and shows held at underground do-it-yourself venues like the Broom Factory Factory and Summa (Coward Shoe), where a CP freelancer was arrested while documenting one raid. To be sure, the people throwing these parties are on the edge: They aren’t clubs and lack “live entertainment” licenses. But they did hire off-duty cops on at least one occasion (to disastrous effect) and—this is key—they are not causing problems for neighbors or anyone else. It’s long past time for the department and city administration to come to terms with this cultural force. (EEJ) Photo: City Paper photographer Noah Scialom is arrested during the Coward Shoe raid. J. M. Giordano
8. Berger cookies shut down. Panic set in in early February when health inspectors shut down the Cherry Hill bakery that makes iconic Berger cookies. The fudge-smothered confections rival crabs and Natty Boh as Mobtown icons, and fears of a shortage caused an eBay price spike. The widespread sighs of relief when the bakery reopened—unremarkable violations were found and fixed, and licensing shortfalls were remedied tout de suite—may well have expelled enough hot air to melt an Arctic glacier. Now, Baltimoreans can again celebrate Cherry Hill’s third-most-famous commodity (after crack and heroin) and even quaff the cookies’ newest inspiration: Full Tilt Berger Cookie Chocolate Stout. But don’t stop stockpiling yet: The FDA’s proposed ban on trans fats could still bring down the House of Berger. (VS)
9. “Rain tax” imposed. Laying the groundwork for his first presidential run, Governor O’Malley has sought to burnish his environmental credentials (while continuing to accommodate big polluter/campaign contributors like Perdue). So he recently postponed implementation of regulations that would force farmers to stop fouling the bay with chicken shit, after doubling the “flush tax” and adding a “rain tax” on all impervious surfaces. The move stirred revolt in the GOP and stoked new dreams of secession in Western Maryland. Carroll County is facing federal fines for noncompliance; Frederick officials set their fee at a penny. The minimum is about $40 per year for Baltimore City homeowners—though poor people can get out of it. And if you’re an environmentalist who collects rain water and cleans up the streams for days on end, you can get a discount! It works out to $1.25 an hour. (EEJ)
10. Ticketmaster scalps city. It could have been a huge blow to monopoly power and a giant victory for the rule of law: A Baltimore man won a lawsuit against Ticketmaster, charging the giant had violated the city’s 65-year-old anti-scalping law. Then the City Council swung into action. First, it temporarily exempted the ticket giants from the law. Then, under direction from the mayor’s office and corporate lobbyists, it amended the law to allow Ticketmaster and its corporate brothers to do pretty much what they’ve always been doing—while repealing the 1948 anti-scalping provisions. And it all happened with nary a protest. Truly: democracy inaction! (EEJ)
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