Number 1: Mother Nature Shows Who's Boss
What was your favorite nickname for the pair of crippling blizzards that touched down in Baltimore in early February? Were you a snowmageddon fan? Or did you prefer snowpocalypse? No matter what you called them, the two blizzards—which came within three days of each other and combined to drop a record-breaking 50 inches of snow on the Greater Baltimore region—were humbling, awe-inspiring, and, ultimately, a royal pain. Because once the sheer beauty of the snow diminished, the arduous task of digging ourselves out began. Businesses were closed. Thousands were without power. Snow drifts were so large, they made digging out streets and cars—not to mention driving—a near impossible task. In the end, the storm cost Baltimore city $21 million—and was a no-brainer as the defining event of 2010.
Number 2: Sheila Dixon Resigns. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Sworn In
It was the non-apology heard ’round the world—or, at least, the Beltway. On Jan. 6, a month after a jury found her guilty of misappropriating gift cards intended for the poor, Mayor Sheila Dixon announced her resignation. In a teary press conference, Dixon pointedly declined to admit any wrongdoing or make any apologies. As part of a plea agreement, she would have to perform community service and pay restitution, but could maintain her $80,000 annual pension. And so, on Feb. 4, Baltimore’s first female mayor relinquished her post and passed it on to the city’s second female mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose technocratic, efficient ways cut a clear contrast to shoe-waving, outburst-prone Dixon. The outgoing mayor would no doubt prefer to be remembered for her many accomplishments in office, including increasing recycling pickup and introducing the Charm City Circulator. But she will likely be more closely linked to the sordid tales of extramarital affairs, gift cards, and fur coats.
Number 3: Buck Showalter Takes Over As Orioles Skipper
When Buck Showalter—a TV analyst who’d had high profile managerial stints with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers—took over the Orioles in August, there was lots of fanfare—and more Buck-related puns than you can shake a stick at. (Our favorite: Buck yeah!) But there was also a healthy dose of skepticism (13 years of losing will do that to you). And then Showalter, who is famous for developing young talent, started winning . . . and winning. The O’s went 8 and 1 in his first nine games. A fluke right? Not quite. While they couldn’t keep up that torrid pace, the team finished a more than respectable 34 and 23 under his leadership, resulting in some genuinely deserved optimism for the coming season. Buck yeah, indeed.
Number 4: Gregg Bernstein Defeats Pat Jessamy as City State's Attorney
It started, seemingly, with a lawn sign. Former prosecutor Gregg Bernstein wasn’t really on the public radar until police commissioner Fred Bealefeld put a sign on his lawn supporting Bernstein’s candidacy for city State’s Attorney. (Bealefeld claimed it was his right as a private citizen.) It piqued interest: Who is this guy and why is the commish on his side? And when a young Hopkins research assistant was murdered by two people on his way home from Penn Station, it became a rallying point for Bernstein supporters, who believed that Jessamy was too soft on crime. (Both the accused had long criminal records.) The race took a particularly unpleasant turn when Jessamy claimed that Bernstein’s aggressive stance on crime would set the city back 60 years. In the end, Baltimore voters—albeit not many of them; turnout for September’s primary was historically low—didn’t share her concerns and Bernstein won a tight election.
Number 5: Senator Theatre Goes Dark and Reopens Under New Management
Tom Kiefaber left The Senator Theatre in July, after a protracted—and, at times, ugly—battle to retain the beleaguered movie palace, which had been in his family since the late 1930s. The city acquired the cash-strapped theater at a foreclosure auction and green-lighted a renovation plan by Buzz Cusack and his daughter Kathleen (who also own The Charles Theatre). The Cusacks plan to add a small plates restaurant (from the same folks who run Tapas Teatro) and second movie screen on an adjacent property, while preserving the Senator as a single-screen theater. After going dark for a few months, the Senator resumed showing films in October.
Number 6: Mo'Nique Wins the Academy Award for Precious
The performance—raw, fearless, nakedly emotional—spoke for itself. But would voters take Baltimore’s Mo’Nique—famous for her standup routine and her work in broad comedies—seriously as a real actress? That question was answered, seemingly, as the awards began to pile up—Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe, National Society of Film Critics. But the Oscars are a horse of a different color and Mo’Nique didn’t play by the rules—refusing to sit through the luncheons, attend the junkets, and do any of the schmoozing associated with Hollywood’s top prize. Some pundits thought it would cost her. It didn’t. She won the Best Supporting Actress honor and even referenced the controversy in her stirring acceptance speech: “First, I would like to thank the Academy for showing it can be about the performance and not the politics,” she said. Indeed.
Number 7: O'Malley Beats Ehrlich
In an election season that saw the Republicans regain control of the House and pick up several seats in the Senate, Maryland remained true blue, reelecting Governor Martin O’Malley by a 12 point margin. One wonders if this is the last act of the ongoing clash between these two ambitious political rivals, in many ways, almost mirror images of each other. Both career politicians, both youthful (if no longer actually young)—Democrat O’Malley, 47, brought his polish, discipline, and well-oiled political machine to the table, while Republican Ehrlich, 53, remained a feisty populist, ever relishing a good debate. But now that Ehrlich is 0 for 2 against his arch rival, will there be an O’Malley/Ehrlich round three in 2014? Ehrlich says no. Just in case, we’ll bring the popcorn.
Number 8: Catholic Schools Close by the Dozen
Catholic education is an institution in Baltimore, so when the local Archdiocese announced in March its plans to close 12 elementary schools and one high school—the 48-year-old Cardinal Gibbons School—it was big news. The Archdiocese claimed the closures were necessary due to declining enrollment and financial losses, but many alumni and parents of current students reacted angrily. A group of Gibbons parents and alums held emergency meetings and raised funds in a failed attempt to buy the school to run it independently. On the heels of the closing of Towson Catholic in 2009, the consolidation was another blow to Catholic education in the region. For many, the most recent closures were an inevitable result of demographic changes in the area and improved public schools and a sure sign Catholic education would never be the powerhouse it once was in Baltimore.
Number 9: Slots Come to Maryland
After endless debates, zoning meetings, legal hearings, two voter referendums, millions of dollars in planning and campaigning—and more than five years after the state legislature first passed bills allowing slot machines—Maryland will finally get a sizable slots facility, estimated to generate about $400 million a year for education, create hundreds of jobs, and bring busloads of new tourists to the state. The final piece of the puzzle came on election day, when voters in Anne Arundel County approved a ballot question allowing a slots casino adjacent to Arundel Mills Mall by a margin of 56% to 44%. As a result, David Cordish of the Cordish Company, which has poured untold millions into winning a slots license, securing the Arundel Mills site, and campaigning for approval of Question A, says he will begin developing the site pronto. The finished casino will open in Spring or Summer 2012, he says, but he may establish a temporary structure to facilitate slot machines on the site as early as next year. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Number 10: Tense Hopkins Shooting Grips City
When, at 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, word got out that a visitor at The Johns Hopkins Hospital had shot a doctor outside his mother’s hospital room and was in a standoff with police, all of Baltimore turned its attention to the scene. Streets were closed as police and fire vehicles flooded the area and snipers took positions on rooftops. Baltimoreans, likewise, snapped into action, circulating tidbits of information via Facebook and Twitter. The local media was intrepid, with WBAL reporting live from the hospital and The Sun’s Justin Fenton tweeting details he learned from nurses in the building and overheard from police officials. Less than three hours later, it was over, as police reported the sad reality: Paul Warren Pardus, 50, distraught over his mother’s condition shot her physician, Dr. David Cohen, in the abdomen—he has since recovered—and immediately proceeded to shoot and kill his mother and himself. While all of Baltimore was abuzz, these tragic figures lay dead on the eighth floor of Hopkins’s Nelson Building.
Number 11: Public Transportation Goes Green With the Charm City Circulator
Okay, so we’re not exactly known for our bustling public transportation system. But this past January, the city set out to change that by unveiling the Charm City Circulator, a fleet of 21 hybrid-electric buses that will run on three routes for free. First came the orange line (which connects Hollins Market to Harbor East), followed by the purple line (Penn Station to Federal Hill). The green line (City Hall to Johns Hopkins Hospital) hasn’t launched yet because the city is waiting on delivery of more buses, which are in heavy demand as we are the first city to use this green technology. Yes, we’re public transit innovators. Imagine that.
Number 12: Notre Dame Prep Grad Yeardley Love Murdered in Virginia
This past spring, tragedy hit close to home when Cockeysville native and Notre Dame Prep alumna Yeardley Love was murdered near the University of Virginia campus. Love, 22, a star lacrosse player at UVA, was found beaten to death May 3 in her apartment. Her former boyfriend, lacrosse player George Huguely V, 22, has been charged with first-degree murder. The heartbreaking loss sent shock waves throughout the local community, and thousands gathered at her funeral mass at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. If any positive outcome can be found in such a grim event, it’s that her death helped to expose domestic violence as a pervasive issue—one with no regard for age, race, or income. As an homage to the number 1 she wore while playing lacrosse, Love’s family set up the One Love Foundation, which strives to memorialize the student-athlete by creating a scholarship in her name, encouraging youth service, and building a turf field at NDP in her honor.
Number 13: Mary Corey Named the Editor of The Baltimore Sun
After Montgomery Cook resigned from the top editorial position at The Sun in March, many at the paper hoped Cook, an outsider who was often disdained by long-serving staffers for his coziness with the corporate bosses at The Tribune Co., would be replaced by an insider, someone they knew and could trust. In May, they got just that when Mary Corey, a Baltimore native and 23-year veteran of The Sun was named senior vice president and director of content. Corey, who got her start as an intern at the paper, became the first woman to lead The Sun newsroom in its 173-year history. Unlike Cook, Corey was universally well-liked in the newsroom, and the move was hailed by staff and readers alike.
Number 14: Bieber Fever Spreads at the Maryland State Fair
He came, hair first, on Sept. 3, performing in front of 12,000 rabid tween fans (and their sainted parents). He wore all white (and later, all black), sang “Baby,” sprayed Silly String into the crowd, and, in a near-scandalous move, playfully threw a water balloon at a Maryland state trooper, narrowly averting arrest. (Reportedly, one of his bodyguards was able to talk the trooper out of cuffing the heartthrob and taking him to central booking.) Some fans were deliriously happy, others were crushed, both figuratively (those who didn’t get a ticket) and literally (those who got propelled into the eye of the packed, undulating crowd).
Number 15: Black & Decker Throws a Wrench on Baltimore
And just when you thought Charm City couldn’t lose another national headquarters: This spring, on its 100th birthday, Black & Decker, suffering from the recession’s construction bust, merged with Connecticut-based toolmaker Stanley Works (age 166). But “merge” doesn’t sound too painful, right? In fact, it sounds downright friendly. Alas, there are always job cuts in these things: While the tools division, with its 1,200 jobs, will stay in Towson, Black & Decker’s corporate functions will be headed for the Nutmeg State, costing an estimated 250 jobs. All this after rounds of layoffs that occurred earlier in response to a plunge in sales. Just as bad, from the perspective of local nonprofits, is the loss of corporate philanthropy from the local Black & Decker leadership.
Number 16: Maryland Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages Performed in Other States
Political insiders had long whispered Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler’s name as a future gubernatorial candidate, but the AG quickly catapulted his name into the public sphere in February, when he issued a controversial ruling that Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The move prompted many local gay couples to take a day trip to D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal, to tie the knot, and return to Maryland in a legally-binding marriage. The ruling earned Gansler lengthy profiles in The Sun and The Washington Post and a mention as one of CNN’s “Intriguing People,” as well as a resolution in the state legislature, proposed by Republican Del. Don Dwyer, to impeach him. The resolution was voted down 15-5 by the House Judiciary Committee, and Gansler went on to win reelection as Attorney General in November, running unopposed.
Number 17: Frank Zappa Statue Erected (Finally)
Thousands of music fans packed the streets around the Pratt Library’s Highlandtown branch for the dedication of the Frank Zappa sculpture on Sept. 19. A boisterous crowd chanted “Zap-pa! Zap-pa!” as proclamations were read and civic pride was stoked. Zappa’s family members—his wife, Gail, and three of his children were there—were visibly moved at the outpouring of love from his hometown, and it was somewhat surreal seeing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other dignitaries lavish praise on the man who wrote “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” and “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama.” After the shroud was pulled off the statue, Gail said, “Welcome back to Baltimore, Frank,” and the crowd roared its approval.
Number 18: Irene Lewis Steps Down as CenterStage's Artistic Director
CenterStage’s Irene Lewis announced, in April, that she’d been asked to leave her post as artistic director, a position she’d held for nearly two decades. Although the theater’s board gave no concrete reasons for the move, Lewis has, over the years, drawn criticism for her abrupt demeanor and overall detachment from the local arts community. But under her stewardship, the theater consistently staged high-quality productions, built a diverse audience, and kept out of debt. That’s a huge accomplishment, especially in this economy, and Lewis deserves a standing ovation.
Number 19: Harborplace Owner Exits Bankruptcy
When mega-mall giant General Growth Properties—the owner of Harborplace—filed for bankruptcy last year, residents were justifiably concerned that Phillips Seafood, The Cheesecake Factory, and Urban Outfitters would end up shuttered. No worries. Since the April 2009 filing, the company, which owns 185 malls in 43 states, restructured its debts, and in October, a judge approved its plan to exit bankruptcy. Better still? Its reorg plan attracted $6.8 billion in new investment.
Number 20: Tiffany & Co. Opens at Towson Town Center
At a time when fashionistas were becoming recessionistas, Towson Town Center’s 110,000-square-foot luxury wing, which opened in October 2008, seemed like a fashion victim. But slowly, the spaces began to fill—Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Lacoste, and BCBG Max Azria. And then this fall, the pièce de résistance: Tiffany & Co. The upscale jeweler, with its iconic little blue boxes, opened a 3,700-square-foot boutique and went all out—large glass store windows, polished marble, and its trademark stone arch at the entrance. The store even attracted new neighbors: trendy denim shop True Religion and upscale sportswear from Michael Kors (also famous as a Project Runway judge). Looks like Towson’s luxury wing has, indeed, made it work.
Number 21: Handheld Cell Phone Use Banned in Cars
On Oct. 1, there was a run on Bluetooth devices and ear pieces in Maryland. Why? Because the long-dreaded handheld cell phone law went into effect. As of now, talking on a cell phone while driving is a secondary offense, meaning a police officer can only pull you over if you’re doing it in conjunction with another violation, like running a red light. (We’re not planning on testing that loophole ourselves.) Also, with the new law, you can no longer read a text message in your car. (Of course, it’s been a primary offense to write those suckers since 2009.) With such distractions out of the way, we guess Maryland drivers will have to find another excuse for never using a signal when they change lanes! (Ahem.)
Number 22: Stud Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin Acquired by Baltimore Ravens
Ravens fans are all about the defense and the run. We appreciate a good sack, block, or downhill dash more than we do a rolling, one-handed, toes-grazing-the-inbound-line reception. And that’s mostly because we haven’t seen too many of those. With all due respect to Derrick Mason (and we mean that literally——mad props to the guy), the Ravens haven’t been much of a pass threat since the days of Vinny Testaverde. All that changed, almost instantly, when the Ravens acquired wide receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade from the Arizona Cardinals. Suddenly, ever-improving third-year quarterback Joe Flacco had a consistent, playmaking wideout to throw the ball to. Combine that with the acquisition of Donte Stallworth (since injured) and TJ Houshmandzadeh, not to mention old reliables Todd Heeeeeeap and Mason, and all of a sudden we Ravens fans are seriously digging the long ball.
Number 23: Maryland Schools get $250 Million in Federal "Race to the Top" Grant Money—With Some Strings Attached
Maryland schools are already ranked among the best in the country, and they got a major shot in the arm in August, when Maryland was one of nine states (as well as the District of Columbia) to win a “Race to the Top” grant from the federal government. In return for implementing reforms that included linking teacher pay to student performance and overhauling failing schools, the state Department of Education would receive $250 million over four years. However, in October, Baltimore City teachers rejected a new contract that included some of the reforms proposed as part of the state’s application for “Race to the Top” funds, potentially putting the grant on hold. Stay tuned to this one.
Number 24: Elizabeth Large Puts Down Her Fork and Knife as The Sun's Restaurant Critic
The February blizzards weren’t the only big news at the beginning of the year. Elizabeth Large, who had been a Sun restaurant critic since 1973, announced her retirement on Feb. 9. Loyal “sandbox” fans on her Dining@Large blog responded with 163 comments that day, already mourning the voice of one of Baltimore’s most well-known reviewers. Not that they knew what she looked like. Elizabeth famously guarded her visual image to keep from being recognized by too-curious restaurant managers and chefs. Interestingly, Elizabeth started out her reviewing career eating steak Diane flambé at the ritzy, now-closed Danny’s and ended it with a bowl of “Special Pho,” a Vietnamese soup with round steak, flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe at the casual Pho Dat Thanh in Towson. Her replacement—Richard Gorelick—was named on Sept. 22.
Number 25: Chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain Delight a Packed House at The Hippodrome
Baltimore showed its rousing food spirit on May 22 when a sold-out crowd of about 2,000 converged on The Hippodrome Theatre for its first “Foodie Experience,” featuring urbane chef Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain, the irreverent chef-turned-author-and-TV-personality. Ripert and Bourdain are friends in real life, and their respect for one another was evident in their repartee, moderated on stage by Reagan Warfield of Mix 106.5. The audience, dressed in night-on-the-town duds, ate up the duo’s insider stories, including their appreciation for the work of Baltimore’s David Simon. Patrons also got to ask questions, like what would each want for a final meal? Ripert: black truffles shaved on toasted bread. Bourdain: “high-test sushi.” Ticket-holders who paid extra got to partake of tasting stations set up by local restaurants after the talk. The only complaint: not enough food!