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The Year in News

The Stop Snitchin' DVD was released in 2004, but it continued to make news in 2005.

Top Ten 2005

The Year in News Even the most ardent Baltimoron knows better than to take as anything other than a sick joke our claim to being “The Greatest City in America.” | By Gadi Dechter, Edward Ericson Jr., and Van Smith

The Year in Movies Fuck March of the Penguins.

The Year in Television It signals that the major networks are following a cable and foreign TV lead: the season-long serial narrative

The Year in Music 2005 was definitely a year of no consensus.

The Year in Local Music From club music to indie rock to the fact that by year’s end it seemed like damn near every rapper in the city was signed, this was a banner year for Baltimore music...

The Year in Books The you-know-what over in you-know-where continues to dominate American publishing…

The Year in Art Only time can tell if 2005 is the year that Baltimore’s local art climate started to turn for the better.

The Year on Stage Lack of talent is never going to sink Baltimore theater, but lack of space is a problem.

Our Top 40 City Paper Offers 40 Ideas From 2005 for Your iPod

By Gadi Dechter, Edward Ericson Jr. and Van Smith | Posted 12/14/2005

1 West Zest, No Jest

Even the most ardent Baltimoron knows better than to take as anything other than a sick joke our claim to being “The Greatest City in America.” Apparently, the folks at travel guide Frommer’s were hoodwinked, though, because this summer they named Bodymore, Murderland, one of the Top 10 summer vacation destinations in the world, alongside Belize and Barcelona. Determined to capitalize on Frommer’s rather generous appraisal of Harm City, the professional boosters at the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association decided in November to shell out $500,000 for a new city slogan and logo, coming in April, in the hopes that we all quit mangling the old ones about the City That Bleeds. But hey, maybe we should Believe the hype. The long-decrepit west side of downtown, for example, made all sorts of revitalization noises this year. The Hippodrome is drawing strong crowds, the new Maggie Moore’s restaurant is luring them across the street, and Starbucks chose the west side as the site for its first stand-alone shop anywhere near downtown. While the area is still hardly Zestfully clean, its nascent resurgence has us optimistically reaching for another city’s old motto: If gentrification can happen here, it can happen anywhere, hon.

2 Money Honey

In 2003, Gov. Robert Ehrlich was faced with a state budget deficit nearing a billion dollars, so he raised the property-tax rate by a nickel for every Benjamin of assessed value. The next year, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley addressed a shortfall approaching $50 million by initiating a suite of new taxes to raise about $30 million. As the two prepare to square off next fall in a gubernatorial race (if, that is, O’Malley can beat Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan in the Democratic primary), their deficits have become surpluses—Ehrlich’s by a billion or so, O’Malley’s by about $60 million. The revenue glut is at least partly due to the hot real-estate market, driven by low interest rates. This exuberant phenomenon is historically cyclical and overdue for a downturn. But that hasn’t stopped the Guv and Hizzoner from self-aggrandizing boasts about fiscal prudence—and even suggesting they might go for tax cuts during the 2006 election year.

3 Zero-Some Tolerance

Baltimore became a harder place to be an ordinary pedestrian last year, as city police made a special effort to accost, frisk, and also arrest thousands of people for minor infractions. In most months, more than 2,000 people were arrested but later released without charges being filed, many of them accused of simply loitering. Perhaps 1,000 more each month go to court, only to see their charges dropped by prosecutors. In all, nearly half of the people city police arrested last year without warrants were released without charges being filed. This jail-clogging policy of zero tolerance did not extend to the enforcement of anti-gambling laws, however. The spectacular Nov. 2 raid on the Owls Nest—an illegal casino with police, political, and criminal ties—led to the mass nonprosecution of about 80 poker players. The public discussion afterward focused mostly on the harmlessness of poker, not the potential corruption inherent in the scenario, and touched on the idea of legalization. O’Malley supports the “stop and frisk” policies that seem to target anyone outside in certain neighborhoods, keeping silent on the baldly unconstitutional loitering arrests. But the mayor, a former prosecutor, apparently cares deeply enough about the civil rights of gamblers to avoid “zero-tolerating” them.

4 Bus Ride

The Maryland Transit Administra-ion’s Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative was rolled out in October, leaving many commuters grumbling as transit officials crowed about improvements and greater efficiency. The changes to about 20 bus lines cut off service to business parks north of Hunt Valley, industrial areas in Sparrows Point and Fairfield, and various middle- and upper-class neighborhoods in Baltimore County. The changes are far less extensive than those announced in the spring—the outcry then was so widespread and vocal that the MTA backed down somewhat—but they’re still disrupting the daily lives of car-less, working-class commuters across the region.

5 Bloody Baltimore

For five years the O’Malley administration touted success in the war on crime by citing diminishing statistics on violent crime. Sure, the murder rate never dipped below 253 and never approached O’Malley’s promised rate of 175, but overall, the mayor says, violent crime has been going down. In July, the FBI released its Uniform Crime Reports for 2004, and the trend in violent crimes in Baltimore was up slightly—deviating from other cities’ continued drops. All this stands in marked contrast to 2001, when a 43-body reduction in the number of murders took the annual rate below 300 for the first time in a decade. “And we were able to do this without the overall number of arrests going up,” O’Malley told the New York Times then, of the 78,000 arrests in 2000. Between April 2004 and March 2005 city police made 95,907 arrests, of which nearly 22,000 were released without charges being filed.

6 Screwed to the Gils

In August, septuagenarian businessman Gilbert Sapperstein pleaded guilty to bribing a city school system employee to create fake work orders that netted Sapperstein’s All-State Boiler Services Inc. $3.3 million in fraudulent contracts—and that’s just what prosecutors could prove. Sapperstein served only a month of his year-plus sentence in jail and is doing the rest of his time in home detention. His accomplice, Rajiv Dixit, was sentenced to five years in prison. Sapperstein also owns the bar-vending machine business Star Coin Machine Co., and trades in liquor licenses. But that’s totally aboveboard, because bar poker machines are used “for amusement only,” not illegal gambling or anything.

7 Ill Waters

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office was stung this fall by a General Accounting Office report that all but called it a wastrel agency failing to do its job. And the bay itself manifests that failure. After more than a generation of expensive attention, the world’s largest estuary continues its decline—more slowly than before restoration efforts first began in the 1970s, but a decline nonetheless. The annual report card on the bay’s health, put out by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, gave it a “D” again this year—the same as in the previous four years. And scientists are saying that, even if restoration policies are pursued aggressively with adequate funding and effective implementation, the modest water-quality levels of the 1950s won’t be reclaimed until 2030.

8 Snitchin’

The infamous Stop Snitchin’ DVD made its debut more than a year ago, but the underlying sentiment—“fuck the police, and definitely don’t help them”—remains a deeply entrenched in local culture. A little-noticed aspect of this year’s federal indictment against the alleged drug traffickers in the Rice Organization hint at why: Prominent politicians such as City Comptroller Joan Pratt, former state senators Clarence Mitchell IV and Larry Young, and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, and even movie star Jada Pinkett Smith, all had ties to the organization, mostly through fundraisers held at Anthony B. Leonard’s Downtown Southern Blues restaurant on North Howard Street. Leonard, indicted as part of the Rice Organization, leased the Downtown Southern Blues building from Kenneth A. “Bird” Jackson, a local political rainmaker and former lieutenant to “Little” Melvin Williams, perhaps Baltimore’s most famous drug trafficker. The drug economy—and the stop-snitchin’ ethic—clearly reaches into every level of Baltimore society. Indeed, one of the characters who appeared in Stop Snitchin’ was arrested in the Rice Organization take-down. Two police officers—William A. King and Antonio L. Murray, who folks in Stop Snitchin’ identified as “in the game”—were also arrested. Further investigation of the political ties of suspected members of the Rice Organization, which the indictment claimed raked in $27 million and was responsible for the distribution of more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine and heroin to Baltimore’s streets between 1995 and 2004. The criminal case is scheduled for trial next October.

9 MD4STEFFEN?

Ten months after Gov. Robert Ehrlich aide Joseph Steffen was fired for spreading infidelity rumors about Mayor Martin O’Malley, the identity of the person behind the nickname MD4BUSH remains unknown—a mystery that assures this story will continue to generate headlines well into 2006. MD4BUSH is the internet handle of the person who lured Steffen into making salacious posts about O’Malley on the conservative web site FreeRepublic.com. Ehrlich recently predicted on WBAL radio that MD4BUSH’s identity would be “shortly” revealed, likely as part of a “setup by major Democratic operatives.” Democrats say the governor is blowing smoke to divert attention from an ongoing investigation by a state legislative committee into allegations that Ehrlich directed a team of staffers—among them Steffen—to hunt down and fire politically disloyal employees of state agencies. In October, Steffen broke eight months of silence and told The Sun he was considering a run for governor on the Libertarian Party ticket.

10 Liquor Board not Boring

In April, chief city liquor inspector Sam Daniels sued his employer, claiming that two members of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners and two of its top staffers were involved in a protection racket for politically connected owners of bars on the Block. Daniels was suspended for a month, and his accusations of corruption made public the internal turmoil at the state agency that regulates liquor licensees in the city. In a series of articles, Sun reporter Lynn Anderson documented the board’s shortcomings: that it often failed to respond to neighborhood complaints about problem bars, that it let some vending-machine operators hold onto licenses long after they legally ought to have expired, and that inspectors—some of whom were hired as political favors—weren’t held accountable for their hours or work. Daniels eventually dropped his lawsuit, but his accusations led to an ongoing investigation by a state prosecutor and to some meaningful changes. Inspectors, for example, were told they would actually have to work for their paychecks, a requirement apparently too stiff for five members of the inspection team, who requested leave for “stress or illness.”

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Top Ten archives

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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