The Year in News
The Maryland Lottery announces its relocation to Montgomery Park, a new redevelopment of the former Montgomery Ward warehouse near Southwest Baltimore's Carroll Park. The 175 Lottery employees will join the 900 Maryland Department of the Environment workers already moving there. In October, a major bill-collecting firm, with its staff of 600, also signs a lease. Ultimately, Montgomery Park is expected to house 3,500, making it the city's largest office complex.
Why is this significant? Because Montgomery Park is not near the Inner Harbor. Neither are other major development projects such as the biotechnology parks planned on the east and west sides of the city, and the west-side redevelopment plan already underway. There are also many minor projects in the works for inland areas of the city. Lack of waterfront space is limiting new opportunities for harbor-area development, where success stories have long been legion. So major investment is spreading to areas that don't ring the harbor--possibly a harbinger of good things to come for the struggling neighborhoods in its path.
Allfirst Bank, a Baltimore subsidiary of the Dublin-based Allied Irish Banks, rocks the financial world by announcing $750 million in losses to a phony trading scheme spearheaded by Mount Washington resident and Allfirst Financial currency trader John Rusnak. It was the largest such case since Britain's Barings Bank lost $1.4 billion in 1995, and then collapsed, thanks to rogue trader Nick Leeson's fraudulent transactions in Singapore. In the months following, the former First National Bank of Maryland was sold to M&T Bank of Buffalo, N.Y., which says it will discard the Allfirst name; its top two executives, Chairman Frank Bramble and CEO Susan Keating, left the firm; several bank officials were fired; and Rusnak pled guilty to fraud charges. But, hey, Baltimore got to make global bank-fraud history.
Setting aside an old dispute over who discovered the virus that causes HIV/AIDS, two leading AIDS researchers announce a joint effort to find a vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease. Robert Gallo, of the University of Maryland's Baltimore-based Institute of Human Virology, and Luc Montagnier, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris--who now agree that Montagnier and not Gallo was the first to isolate the AIDS virus--will combine resources to test at least five potential vaccines. If any prove effective, it would be the crowning achievement in AIDS research. Baltimore has one of the highest concentrations in the United States of new cases of the disease, which has claimed an estimated 25 million lives since 1981, making the city an appropriate host for the search for a cure.
Dontee Stokes fires three bullets into the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, catapulting Baltimore to the forefront of the Roman Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal. The 26-year-old Stokes, who says he shot Blackwell when the priest refused to talk with him, filed a sex-abuse complaint with police in 1993 when he was 17 years old alleging that Blackwell had fondled him for three years. The Archdiocese of Baltimore found Stokes' complaint not credible, and no criminal charges were ever filed against Blackwell. The shooting was the first act of violence committed against a priest accused of sexual molestation since the pope finally broke his silence on misbehaving members of the clergy in March.
Two weeks after being firebombed, the Dawson family's home in East Baltimore is set afire with gasoline in the middle of the night. Angela Dawson and her five children perish in the flames; her husband, Carnell, dies from his injuries a week later. The suspect, Darnell Brooks, is a 21-year-old neighbor whose motive, police allege, was to silence the mother's anti-drug-dealing activism.
Thejarring demise of the Dawsons recalls another horrific crime in the city's Eastern District: December 1999, when five women were gunned down in their rowhouse. Then, as now, the city's psyche was already bruised and battered by violence. The 1999 mass murder was the culmination of a decade-long bloodbath overseen by the befuddled leadership of then-mayor Kurt Schmoke and his police commissioners. The Dawsons, too, were killed amid a string of devastating violent blows--police and scores of juveniles have died in this year's crime wave, which, on election night in September, shattered Mayor Martin O'Malley's ambitious year-end goal of less than 175 murders.
But this time, the mayor and Police Commissioner, Edward Norris, are nationally recognized crime fighters who are asking Baltimore to "believe" it can and will rid itself of drug-driven violence. While the Dawson case inspires fear in the hearts of those who would work against drug dealing on their streets, O'Malley calls the family "martyrs" in the effort and exhorts the city to redouble its efforts to become "the safest big city in America."
State and federal law-enforcement agencies are informed by a state auditor that the Maryland Housing Fund, a division of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, may have fueled flipping--the buy-low, sell-high practice that has been ravaging distressed neighborhoods and criminalizing members of the real-estate community for years now. Established in 1971 by Gov. Marvin Mandel to insure low-income mortgages, the fund is not new to trouble. Its past projects include:
Now the very existence of the Maryland Housing Fund is at stake. One of the remedies to the dismal budget outlook suggested recently by the Commission on Maryland's Fiscal Structure is to liquidate the fund, which would free up $20 million. With its "questionable transactions" on the law-enforcement radar, and its assets being eyed for quick sale, the Maryland Housing Fund has seen better days.
"It's time for a change" is the slogan governor-elect Robert Ehrlich used in his battle with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for the state's top job in 2002. Judging by the results of the votes cast this Election Day, Marylanders overwhelmingly agree with that sentiment.
Ehrlich is the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in 36 years to wrest control of the state from the Democrats, beating Townsend by a margin of 3.9 percent. Ehrlich promises to run an administration nothing like that of outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening and Townsend; instead, he promises to fix the state's money problems by balancing the budget with slot-machine gambling, lower the age for the death penalty to 17, and help Mayor Martin O'Malley fix Baltimore's problems.
In the city of Baltimore, voters also ditch the same-old, same-old by voting overwhelmingly in favor of Question P, a measure that will cut four City Council seats and implement single-member council districts. Proponents of the plan--including community-activist groups Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Community and Labor United for Baltimore, and the League of Women Voters--insist that it will save the city money, increase accountability of the City Council, and make it easier for new candidates to get elected.
Even before the general election, two of Baltimore's influential state senators were ousted from their seats by voters during the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. Sen. Barbara Hoffman, who has served in the Senate for nearly 20 years, was defeated by newcomer Del. Lisa Gladden, while Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, scion of his family's political dynasty, lost his seat to Del. Verna Jones.
The ultrasecret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issues the first ruling in its 24-year history, granting criminal prosecutors discretion over intelligence wiretaps, which previously had been the exclusive domain of intelligence agencies. The result, in short, is that a secret spy court can now grant wiretaps in federal crime probes, so U.S. attorneys, when sizing up a suspect, can mull whether to dub him a potential terrorist and thereby obtain quick and easy surveillance orders. In a press conference, an exuberant Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the court's decision as "a victory for liberty, safety, and the security of the American people."
Add to this ruling other recent trends in terrorism law--the option to try cases by military tribunal; the ability to secretly lock up noncitizens; the choice to deem a suspect an "enemy combatant," and so hold him indefinitely without judicial review--and it's easy to understand why critics wonder whether a whole new alternate judicial system is under construction. Supporters say the new powers will be judiciously applied, but some worry that innocent activities--peeking at anarchist Web sites, say, or hanging out with anti-globalization activists--may someday earn innocent citizens places in secret intelligence files.
Baltimoreans may soon be able to break out the artificial waterfalls and ornamental fountains once again, and perhaps even enjoy a glass of ice water when they dine out. After 10 months, numerous water-use restrictions, $2 million, and 30 billion gallons of water, the city of Baltimore finally shuts down the three pumps to the Susquehanna River that supplemented the city's water supply during this year's drought. The city tapped the Susquehanna in January to save water in the Loch Raven, Pretty Boy and Liberty reservoirs that serve Baltimore, which had fallen to an all-time winter low of 60 percent capacity. The 2002 draw from the Susquehanna was the largest in city history, and though the reservoirs are now in much better shape, they're still low enough for the city to keep many of its mandatory water-use restrictions in place.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward Norris is caught with his pants down (and his various money clips, dress shoes, flowers, Orioles sweatshirts, and hotel rooms showing) when the city finance director releases an audit of the Police Department Supplemental Account. Norris drained the account, an off-the-books departmental fund quietly used by police commissioners over the years to cover expenses for trips and meals, to the tune of $178,000 in the course of two years.
Among his many expenses: $20,000 in trips, $2,500 spent at a New York steakhouse, more than $2,000 for Orioles tickets and merchandise. The commissioner also bought gold cuff links for himself, gifts for other officers, and meals at some of the city's best restaurants.
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