Number One: Baltimore Bids Farewell To Its Forever Mayor
Who would have expected greatness from a small-time real-estate lawyer who lived most of his adult life with his elderly mother in a humble row house? Despite all that, William Donald Schaefer, who died April 18 at 89, rose from freshman city councilman to a political ringmaster for nearly 30 years, first as City Council president, then as Baltimore mayor from 1971 to 1987 (Esquire magazine named him "best mayor in America" in 1984), and then as two-term governor. He even came out of retirement in his waning years to serve as state comptroller. As mayor, Schaefer got national attention for morphing a grimy and racially torn industrial city into a tourist destination that included Harborplace and the Aquarium, as well as Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Unconcerned that others—from bureaucrats and politicians to journalists—found him alternately pushy and offensive, he earned the respect of voters for his "do-it-now" approach to problems, whether it involved alley trash and potholes or multi-million dollar urban renewal.
"There wasn't a person in the City of Baltimore that didn't feel like they couldn't stop him and approach him with a problem . . . . They knew he was always their mayor and he was always on their side."—Gov. Martin O'Malley
Number Two: . . . But No Plague of Locusts (Yet)
On August 23, Baltimore was shaken (and stirred) by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Maryland. Damage, thankfully, was minimal, although everyone had a "Where were you?" and "What did you first think it was?" story to share with friends. (An informal survey of Facebook revealed that people thought it was: collapsing trees, low-flying helicopters, construction work, particularly rambunctious children upstairs, and—ugh—a terrorist attack.) Not four days later, Hurricane Irene blew through town, creating floods, fallen trees, power outages, and at least one reported death. Since disasters tend to happen in threes, we all braced ourselves for a plague of locusts or rain of frogs. Luckily, Mother Nature decided she just wanted to keep us on our toes. Message received, boss.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, what was that?'"—Downtown worker Flow Wagner discussing the earthquake with WBAL's Barry Simms
Number Three: Baltimore Starts Its Engines
The highly anticipated Grand Prix came to Baltimore this past Labor Day and—for the most part—was a roaring success. While researchers estimate that the event only generated $25 million in economic activity, significantly less than the race organizers' prediction of $70 million (and organizers still owe the city and state $1.5 million), the Grand Prix's long-term impact could be more important. The IZOD IndyCar race not only got 75,000 people down to the city's Inner Harbor, but ESPN called it the most successful inaugural American street-racing event of the past three decades. Provided the debt can be paid by Dec. 31, the spectacle is slated to return next Labor Day. For now, Baltimore is basking in its status as the "Long Beach of the East." (High praise in Indy circles.) We'd say a little traffic congestion is worth that kind of publicity.
"What really struck me here was the attendance, the enthusiasm, and the buzz here."—Penske Racing president Tim Cindric
Number Four: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Elected Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake became Baltimore's 57th mayor in February 2010, when Sheila Dixon resigned and she was elevated from City Council president. But in September, Rawlings-Blake won her first primary election for mayor, beating her closest competitor, State Senator Catherine Pugh, by a 2-to-1 margin. In the November general election, she won by an even bigger margin. In her 19 months in office, Rawlings-Blake led the city through an earthquake, a hurricane, two blizzards, and two years of budget deficits, while boosting its national profile with the Grand Prix. Local voters, it seemed, felt that was enough to earn Rawlings-Blake a full four-year term in office.
"I want to give her a full term. She needs to get a fair chance." —East Baltimore's Angela Lyles, 46, to The Sun
Number Five: School's Out For Nancy Grasmick
The fact that Nancy Grasmick announced her decision to retire as State Superintendent of Schools at a March 30 press conference in the Nancy S. Grasmick State Education Building in downtown Baltimore says a lot about what an institution she has become in her 20 years on the job. Grasmick is widely credited for a broad range of accomplishments, including a renewed focus on early-childhood education (kindergarten readiness has jumped from 49 to 81 percent) and improved test scores (scores in reading and math have increased for seven consecutive years). As she leaves, Maryland has been rated the best school system in the country—and with the best AP test results—for three years running. Most recently, Grasmick spearheaded the effort to make Maryland one of 10 states awarded $250 million in a 2010 federal Race to the Top grant. "Finally," she said at the March press conference, "I feel like I can leave the department in a good place."
"I'm a little ambivalent about the decision. I truly love this department, the superintendents, and, most of all, the students—I do not love getting up at 5 a.m. every day."—Nancy Grasmick
Number Six: Mike Flanagan’s Death Shocks, Saddens
The August 24 news of Mike Flanagan’s death started circulating on Twitter and Facebook some time in the early innings. But the Orioles game was live on TV, and there had yet to be a confirmation—could it possibly be just a horrible hoax? Then the game ended—a 6-to-1 win over the Twins, for what it’s worth—and the MASN crew came on and, through tears, reported the grim truth: Flanagan, 59, was found dead in his Sparks home. What followed was one of the most remarkable (and hard-to-watch) half-hours in the history of local television, as MASN’s Amber Theoharis, Rick Dempsey, Tom Davis, Jim Palmer, and Jim Hunter were forced to cover the shocking death of their own friend and colleague. Later, worse news came: suicide. Reports of financial problems and, possibly, a general sense of despair about his own inability to right the Orioles ship. With the mourning, however, also came time to celebrate Flanny’s life: Not just as a Cy Young- and World Series-winning pitcher, but as one of the most likeable and loyal guys in the sport. And all of Baltimore felt the same way: If Flanny had known how much he was truly loved, would it have made a difference?
“He will be missed. I can’t tell you how much he’ll be missed.”—Jim Palmer
Number Seven: Same-Sex Marriage Bill Defeated
In the first week of March, it looked like Maryland would be the sixth state to finally get a bill passed to legalize same-sex marriage. After years of lobbying, a bill won state Senate approval and Gov. Martin O’Malley was ready to sign it into law. At that point, it was just about the House of Delegates. And that’s controlled by a Democratic majority. A bastion of liberalism, right? Enter religion, stage right. Combined opposition from Republicans, churches, and from some Democrats from districts dominated by Catholics, coupled with a split among the chamber’s 33 black lawmakers, did in the initiative once again. Even if it had passed, some predicted, it would likely have been petitioned to referendum on grounds of faith. “They took the black votes for granted because they’re so used to having it,” Del. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, said of the Democratic House leadership. “This issue was too big, people’s connection to church and religion were too deep.” So what’s next? The campaign’s already underway to try again next year.
“This is a distance run, not a sprint. We’ll come back next year and take a strong look at it.”—House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch to The New York Times
Number Eight: Centerstage Hires Kwame Kwei-Armah
KWame Kwei-Armah became “the face” of Centerstage in 2011. As a public figure, the charismatic Londoner may be the polar opposite of his predecessor, longtime artistic director Irene Lewis, who was a formidable presence inside the theater but virtually invisible outside it. Since arriving this summer, Kwei-Armah—who’s also an acclaimed playwright, director, and actor—immediately began meeting with area arts organizations, reaching out to local theater groups, and announcing that Centerstage would be more inclusive, diverse, and innovative than ever. He also wasted little time articulating a bold vision, programming-wise, that includes new plays, a self-proclaimed “bias” toward female playwrights, and a goal of re-branding both the theater and the city as a national arts destination.
“I want to be part of something that redefines Baltimore, outside of The Wire.”—Kwame Kwei-Armah
Number Nine: Denise Whiting Gives Up the Hon
Usually when Chef Gordon Ramsay brings his Fox series Kitchen Nightmares to a restaurant, it’s all about what happens behind closed doors. But at Café Hon, his intervention was less about cleaning up the waitstaff or adding an extra bouillon cube to the broth, than it was about convincing owner Denise Whiting how to handle the so-called “Hontroversy,” that, she says, “has all but killed” her business. To that end, he and Whiting made an impromptu and dramatic appearance on the Mix 106.5 JoJo and Reagan morning show on November 7. In a tearful and tremulous voice, Whiting said, “Today I get a second chance. I am so sorry.” She went on to explain to (a clearly stunned) JoJo and Reagan that she was releasing the “Hon” trademark and giving the word back to Baltimore. “Hon is in our hearts,” she said. The question remains, will Baltimoreans embrace Whiting back into their hearts?
“I seriously did not see that coming.” —JoJo Girard
Number Ten: Phillips Leaves Inner Harbor
Baltimoreans were taken by surprise when Phillips Seafood announced in June it was not renewing its lease at the Inner Harbor pavilion after 31 years. Within days, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. claimed the space, saying it planned to open in May 2012. Rumors soon were swirling that Phillips would relocate to the vacant ESPN Zone at the Power Plant. In mid-July, the Phillips family and The Cordish Cos., which oversees the restaurant-and-entertainment complex, confirmed that the seafood chain would indeed be taking over the building (and adding an outdoor crab deck!) by the end of the year. The positive news came on the heels of the sad passing of patriarch Brice Phillips. He and his wife Shirley were a true local success story: turning their mom-and-pop eatery in Ocean City into the mega Phillips corporation.
“Two people would be smiling at this. They would be happy to see this union of family.” —Cordish Cos. CEO David Cordish, referring to Brice Phillips and William Donald Schaefer
Number Eleven: Gary Williams Hangs Up His Whistle
There are some coaches that come to define teams—and that was certainly the case with the tenacious Gary Williams and the Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball squad. In May, Williams announced his retirement, which was quite a shock to fans in College Park, where he had been head coach for more than 20 years. After successfully coaching basketball teams at American University, Boston College, and Ohio State, Williams returned to his alma mater in 1989, and the love affair began. The famously aggressive (and perspiring) coach earned the Terps 461 wins and a national title in 2002. Not only a force to be reckoned with on the court, Williams was also a constant presence on campus. He has signed on to be a special assistant to the team for the 2011-12 season—proof that Terps Nation can’t let go of him just yet.
“He is one of the great coaches of all time. He is a coaches’ coach and an ultimate competitor. His retirement is a big loss for the ACC and for college basketball.”—Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
Number Twelve: McDonald’s Beating Spurs National Outrage
In april, cell phone footage captured Chrissy Lee Polis, a 22-year-old transgender woman, being brutally beaten by two teenage girls in a Rosedale McDonald’s. Bystanders—including the cameraman, a McDonald’s employee—can be heard laughing and encouraging the assailants. As the horrific footage went viral, human rights and LGBT groups argued the beating was a hate crime. For all the outrage though, very little changed. In August, one attacker, Teonna Monae Brown, now 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and received a 10-year sentence, with five years suspended, a verdict many called too lenient. The other attacker may stay in a juvenile detention facility until she’s 21. The McDonald’s employee who captured the grim scene was fired in the spring. Polis is still scared to go outside.
“Everybody sat there in that McDonald’s and watched me get hurt. And nobody did nothing at all. Nobody.”—Polis to The Sun
Number Thirteen: O’s Knock Sox Off
On the last game of the season, the O’s of found themselves right smack in the middle of the pennant race (okay, as spoilers, but still. . .) against the dreaded Boston Red Sox, who needed a win to force a one-game playoff with the Tampa Bay Rays. After the O’s dramatically won the game—4 to 3—the players giddily pounced on each other as if they had just won the pennant. O’s fans, who’d had little to cheer all season, felt similarly elated. And for one night, Camden Yards was electric again.
“The Orioles win the pennant! The Orioles win the pennant!”—Enthusiastic fan on Twitter, capturing the “we’ll take what we can get” spirit of the evening
Number Fourteen: Phylicia Barnes: A Disappearance and a Cause
We’ve all heard the tales in the media of kidnap, rape, and/or murder involving young victims like Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natalee Holloway, and Amber Hagerman, after whom the nation’s AMBER Alert system is named. What do they have in common? They’re all attractive white girls. But meaningful media coverage was not the case for Phylicia Barnes, a pretty African-American straight-A student and athlete from Monroe, NC, who was 16 when she disappeared during a visit to her half-sister in northwest Baltimore. She was last heard from Dec. 28, 2010, via Facebook, saying she was at her sister’s apartment with her sister’s boyfriend. Despite the sparse media attention, thousands went to the Facebook page “Pray for Phylicia Barnes,” leaving notes of sympathy. Police discovered her remains in April in the Susquehanna River.
“Even in death, this tragedy is treated nothing like Natalee Holloway or any other Caucasian incident. . . Sad and shameful!!!”—Internet poster GBee54 on abcnews.com
Number Fifteen: U2 Rocks Baltimore
Baltimore’s been on a roll with concerts in recent years, hosting A-list performers like Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z, but none has been bigger than U2, who brought its epic “360” show and monstrous stage set to M&T Bank Stadium in June. About 80,000 fans watched the band play a set that lasted over two hours and included some of the group’s biggest hits, including “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Frontman Bono rubbed some locals the wrong way when he said it was nice to be in “Mary-land,” pronouncing it as if it were some exotic land (and not mentioning Baltimore, hon!), but made up for it when he said the city, with its warm bay breezes, reminded him of his hometown of Wicklow, Ireland.
“You can go anywhere/Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast, Baltimore.”—Bono, subbing Baltimore for Berlin while performing “Stay”
Number Sixteen: Food Trucks Hit Road Bump
After making a splash in such cities as Portland and Seattle, food trucks took over Baltimore this year—a plus for hungry diners but not so good for a city that had no idea how to license them. As the number of mobile gourmet eateries kept growing, officials were forced to deal with parking issues and complaints from restaurants that felt threatened by the competition.
By June, the food trucks and the Street Vendors Board came to a resolution. New rules were established regarding permits and parking. There was a catch: The city will reevaluate this plan in December. But for now, the brightly colored vans are doling out fancy burgers, crêpes, cupcakes, soups, grilled cheese, and more in popular lunch areas like Hopkins and Harbor East. They also started a monthly evening gathering in July that attracts hundreds of followers. One of the trucks, Gypsy Queen Cafe, is out and about most days. Its chefs Annmarie Langton and Tom Looney, formerly of the closed Helen’s Garden, like the mobility. “Instead of waiting for people to fill up the tables at the restaurant,” Langton said. “We’re going to the people.”
“To be successful, you need a good chef. And you have to have an eclectic type of food.” —Damian Bohager, owner of The Silver Platter food truck
Number Seventeen: Bunting Gift Is Largest in MICA’s History
In July, George Bunting Jr. and his wife, Anne, endowed $10 million to MICA, the largest gift in the college’s history. The Buntings already have their name on a campus building—a previous gift helped renovate what is now the Bunting Center, where the school’s library, academic offices, and some classroom and gallery space are located—and this money is earmarked for graduate programs and research. With that in mind, MICA announced it plans to expand its graduate student enrollment by 64 percent and its number of graduate-degree programs by 82 percent by the end of the decade.
“Once again, George and Anne have redefined what true leadership can do to propel the college ahead.” —MICA vice president of advancement Michael Franco
Number Eighteen: The Postman Rieslings Twice
Picture this, Wine lovers: Until this year, it was a felony to ship wine to Maryland. Think: “I can’t vote, run for President, visit Canada, or buy a deer rifle because of that Chardonnay bust back in ’73.” But after 30 years of lobbying by the wine industry, that’s finally changed, thanks to a bill passed in the last General Assembly with substantial support from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. “For starters, the bill lets Maryland wineries be competitive with wineries in the other 37 states that can ship wine,” says Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. “I am happy to finally answer the ‘Can I ship wine to my home?’ question [with], ‘Yes.’”
“Did we get everything we wanted on the bill? No. But we see the glass as half full, not half empty. It’s good for the consumer and good for Maryland wine tourism.”—Lucia Simmons of Linganore Winecellars in Mount Airy
Number Nineteen: Aquarium Grieves Dolphin Calves
The National Aquarium suffered the loss of two dolphin calves, within a span of four days, in June. The dolphins were born in April to first-time mothers, Maya and Spirit, who were bred at the Aquarium 10 years earlier. Maya’s calf died first, on June 21, and a necropsy at Johns Hopkins determined that inflammation in the lungs was likely the cause of death. Although the calf initially had difficulty nursing, it appeared to be thriving, so its handlers were shocked when it died. Not so with the other calf. After it had trouble breathing, aquarium staff intervened and made efforts to save it. In fact, the calf passed away in the arms of an Aquarium staff member. A necropsy later revealed extensive internal bleeding, which the Aquarium’s Brent Whitaker says could have been caused by a blow to the belly from the mother.
“First-time moms don’t know their strength, and they do unintentionally injure their calves.”—Brent Whitaker
Number Twenty: Hopkins Physicist Wins Nobel Prize
Adam Riess is no stranger to awards. His discovery that the rate of the universe’s expansion is accelerating—rather than decreasing, as most scientists believed—has earned him a MacArthur Genius Grant and the $1 million Shaw Prize, among other plaudits. But in early October, Riess and two colleagues won the granddaddy of them all, the Nobel Prize for Physics, and the $1.49-million prize that comes with it. When the prize committee called Riess at 5:30 a.m., he was already awake with his 10-month-old son. Later that day, Riess explained to his seven-year-old daughter that winning the Nobel Prize was like getting “a great big gold star” on your school folder.
“That time is famous [for when they call].” —Riess, on how he was tipped off to the fact that he may have won the Nobel Prize
Number Twenty One: Natty Boh Gets Drafted
Back in January, Pabst Brewing Co. announced that National Bohemian beer would be offered on draft for the first time in more than 15 years. While Natty Boh is no longer brewed here, people still went nuts with anticipation. Nacho Mama’s in Canton had a “tapping of the keg” party to celebrate the debut, and the bar was packed wall to wall. While the Colts were stolen from us and the O’s glory days are a distant memory, at least we’ve got Natty Boh back on tap. Ain’t the beer cold!
“Even though it’s not made here and it’s not owned by National Bohemian, it’s such a big part of this community and its heritage.”—Nacho Mama’s owner Patrick “Scunny” McCusker
Number Twenty Two: Baltimore Marks 9/11/11
Ten years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Baltimore dedicated its own memorial to local victims. Created by local architecture firm Ziger/Snead, the memorial, which sits in front of Baltimore’s World Trade Center, is designed to mark the notable moments of that awful morning, in shadows: “The shadow strikes the base at 8:46 in the morning, the time that the first tower was struck,” designer Douglas Bothner explained in our September issue, “and marches across and will mark the events until 10:28 a.m., when the north tower fell.” The names of the victims of the attacks from Maryland are engraved on the east side of the memorial, the last part to be covered in shadows.
“The memory of those individuals and their lives and how we remember them is what lets us move forward.” —Memorial designer Douglas Bothner
Number Twenty Three: Baltimore Gets Occupied
At about noon on October 4, just days after the Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining national attention, a few local activists showed up at Baltimore’s McKeldin Fountain, near the Inner Harbor, with some placards, paint, and a large banner that read “Occupy Baltimore.” By the time of the activists’ first general assembly meeting that night, there were more than 100 of them, and, after a week, there were more than a dozen tents. While some observers assumed the occupiers, who share OWS’s critique of income inequality and corporate greed, wouldn’t stay long, they persisted, even hosting speakers, including an Egyptian presidential candidate. At press time, the city was threatening to limit the size and scope of the encampment going forward, but the occupiers have already made their voices heard in Baltimore.
“I’m 24 and I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever—to have a whole group of people come together for one voice, one cause.”’—Occupier Teyona Davis, a West Baltimore resident and Baltimore City Community College student who was also at the New York protests
Number Twenty Four: Gino’s Laughs in the Face of Moderation (Again)
The ’60s advertising jingle, “Gino’s is the place to go,” rang true in August when an updated version of the fast-food chain opened to great fanfare in Towson. Now called Gino’s Burgers & Chicken, the eatery on East Joppa Rd. also brought back the double-patty burger with secret sauce called Gino’s Giant. Dozens of former patrons lined up for a taste of nostalgia after more than 20 years. The original Gino’s closed in the mid ’80s. The restaurant’s namesake, former Baltimore Colts player Gino Marchetti, 85, wasn’t able to be there because of illness. But he showed up on October 9 for “Fan Appreciation Day.” He told The Sun, “It’s always good to come to Baltimore. It brings back a lot of good memories.” Thanks, Gino. That goes for all of us.
“I’m here for the Gino Giant.”—Tim Mazz of Edgewood on Gino’s opening day.
Number Twenty Five: Maryland Uniforms Almost Break Twitter
This past Labor Day, the University of Maryland football team jogged out of the tunnel to face University of Miami in its season opener. But nobody’s eyes were on the scoreboard. All anyone could pay attention to was Maryland’s eye-popping new uniforms designed by Baltimore’s own Under Armour. Everything on the colorful unis—from the helmets to the shoes—was based on the Maryland state flag. Most people took to Twitter to air their objections; even LeBron James tweeted his disgust. At one point, “Maryland,” “Terps,” and, “Under Armour” were all trending nationally on Twitter and “Maryland” was number one on Google Trends. Sports writers the world over couldn’t stop talking about the flashy jerseys—and we loved every second of it. Not only did the Terrapins beat the Hurricanes that night, but the free press was priceless!
“OH GOSH! Maryland uniforms #Ewwwwww!”—LeBron James on Twitter