Fast cars zipped around downtown Baltimore streets and, it turns out, the race promoters' financial messes. A robocall that urged voters to relax and stay home led jurors to a vote of their own: guilty of election fraud. We bade farewell to an iconic mayor, and began ushering out the city's last Fortune 500 company.
As we re-wind the year 2011, these were some of the events that make us pause the fast-reverse button. It may not have been an earth-shattering year — although an out-of-nowhere quake did rock our part of the world in August — but it was a memorable one.
Here, then, is a story about the stories of the year.
The year had barely gotten underway when gunfire erupted outside a downtown club early Jan. 9, leaving a police officer and a patron dead. In a friendly-fire incident, plainclothes officer William H. Torbit had been shot by fellow police responding to the scene. In August, States Attorney Gregg Bernstein would decide not to file charges, although a couple months later, an independent panel faulted police supervision of the chaotic scene.
In February, First Mariner Bank CEO Ed Hale was detained at BWI airport when a loaded gun was found in his briefcase. (Not to be outdone in celebrity arms news, Tom Clancy sought to build a gun range in his spread at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at the Inner Harbor.)
While Hale eventually got off with a $342.50 fine and probation, 2011 would prove to be a bad year from him all around. In April, he accepted an infusion of cash to save his faltering bank but agreed to step down as chair and CEO, which he did by year's end.
February was also not a good month for Baltimore, with 17 cops charged in a kickback scheme with a towing company and the city losing federal funds for lead abatement after what officials said was a mismanagement of the program.
March brought the Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment allowed the Westboro Baptist Church to wave hateful, anti-gay signs at military funerals such as that of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, prompting his father to sue the group.
Efforts to bring same-sex marriage to Maryland took a hit after last-minute machinations led to the measure dying without a vote in the House on March 11. But in July, Gov. Martin O'Malley threw his support behind the effort, making it one of the big issues before the General Assembly next year.
Nancy Grasmick, whose soft-spoken manner masked steely political skills, announced her retirement after two decades as Maryland's schools superintendent, the longest of any in the nation.
In a case of life imitating art that imitated life, Felicia "Snoop" Pearson of "The Wire" fame was among 63 people arrested in a drug raid. In August, she would plead guilty in exchange for a suspended sentence.
Finally, March also was when we ran out of time. Or, at least, the recording at (410) 936-1212 that used to give the confused and clockless the official time, a service Verizon decided to discontinue.
April dawned with the usual, and unwarranted, hopefulness of spring: The Baltimore Sun's headline on, appropriately, April Fool's Day trumpeted, "Optimism Abounds" for the Orioles' season opener. The Os won, but would end the season with its 14th consecutive losing record.
Meanwhile the General Assembly raised liquor taxes for the first time in decades and, in another issue the will dominate next year, granted in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. Opponents successfully petitioned to send the issue to voter referendum, but supporters have filed suit to block the ballot measure.
Crime would also draw headlines in April: A video of a transgendered woman being beaten in a McDonalds in Rosedale went viral and led to a hate-crime conviction. And, sadly, Phylicia Barnes, a 16-year-old who vanished in Baltimore at the end of 2010, was found dead in the Susquehanna River.
The first word that Chicago-based Exelon was attempting to take over Constellation Energy came at the end of April. The plan, which would put Baltimore's sole remaining Fortune 500 company, and the parent company of local utility BGE, under an out-of-town corporation still faces regulatory hurdles. But it got a boost at the end of the year when O'Malley wrestled what he said was more than $1 billion in concessions in exchange for his support of the $7.9 billion buyout.
The biggest news in April, though, came on the 18th, when William Donald Schaefer died. The famously cantankerous former mayor, governor and comptroller left behind Harborplace, the downtown stadiums and other major projects that he propelled during the Baltimore Renaissance and in return, the city warmly sent him off, with hundreds lining the streets for his posthumous motorcade and then packing his downtown church for the funeral.
The following month, Schaefer's longtime partner in downtown development, Willard Hackerman, would propose one more landscape-altering project: an expansion of the convention center that would bring a new hotel and replacement for the First Mariner Arena.
Also in May, Terps basketball coach Gary Williams announced his retirement after 22 years of suit-soaking courtside operatics.
With the mercury hitting 97 degrees on the final day of May, launching a summer of heat waves, June brought some high-profile court news.
Police officer Gahiji Tshamba was convicted of voluntary manslaughter of Marine vet Tyrone Brown outside a downtown club the previous summer, and later was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's chief of staff, Paul Schurick, and consultant Julius Henson were indicted for the infamous "relax" robocall that prosecutors said was designed to suppress the black vote in an unsuccessful attempt to help the Republican reclaim the governor's mansion. Schurick would be found guilty in December, with Henson's trial to follow next year.
Also in June, former NSA employee Thomas Drake, accused of leaking information to a Sun reporter, accepted a plea deal that cleared him of espionage charges. And ExxonMobil was slapped with more than $1.5 billion in damages for a 2006 underground gas leak that fouled the water supply of residents of Jacksonville in northern Baltimore.
The Fourth of July brought the usual fireworks to the harbor, but also the stabbing death of one man and a stray bullet hitting a four-year-old boy. The marred festivities prompted city officials to fence off the harbor for the New Year's Eve fireworks on Saturday.
Also in July, sharp-eyed workers at the Maryland Historical Society helped nab Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff as they allegedly tried to spirit away documents that included one signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Their arrests led to the discovery of a larger scheme, prosecutors say, in which they trolled archives and libraries up and down the East Coast to pilfer priceless documents.
City Councilwoman Helen Holton saw her bribery and perjury charges, stemming from the $12,500 she accepted from developers John Paterakis and Ronald Lipscomb in 2007, dismissed by the Court of Appeals. And Dr. Mark Midei lost his medical license after accusations that he unnecessarily implanting stents in cardiology patients.
In August, a Baltimore man, John Wagner, was found guilty of the July 2010 murder of Hopkins cancer researcher Stephen Pitcairn. It was a murder that had shocked, even as statistics released in August showed crime had dropped to record lows last year.
This was also the month that congressional redistricting heated up, a process that, among other things, would lead to redrawn borders adding liberal enclaves to a previously GOP-safe Western Maryland district and turning the 3rd District into a water- and county-jumping crazy quilt.
We weathered a climatologically crazed August, first with a rare-in-these-parts earthquake on Aug. 23, followed quickly by Irene knocking the power out for millions up and down the East Coast.
September brought a fashion story to the football field when the Terps debuted uniforms that looked like a Maryland flag had exploded in their locker room. The Sun made its own news, announcing digital subscriptions.
And, a record low of 22 percent of Baltimore voters turned out for a primary election that led to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake ultimately winning a term on her own after filling in for her deposed predecessor Sheila Dixon. Newcomer Nick Mosby upset incumbent City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, and, despite a strong showing for an outsider, Shannon Sneed failed in a November write-in campaign to unseat Councilman Warren Branch.
The real news of September, though, came on Labor Day weekend, when Baltimore hosted what, by the happy crowds and pretty televised images of the city, should have been a smashingly successful inaugural Grand Prix race. But it quickly became apparent that the race promoters, mired in mismanagement and millions of dollars in debt, were in deep trouble that threatened future races.
Hopkins professor Adam Riess would launch October by sharing in the Nobel Prize for physics. Baltimore County schools superintendant Joe Hairston announced he wouldn't seek another contract. The plan to privatize some of the city's rec centers drew lackluster interest. And two patients were killed at the state's maximum security mental facility, Clifford T. Perkins Hospital Center, leading to a new CEO being named to head the troubled institution.
And, midway through the month, longtime WBAL talk show host Ron Smith announced he had late stage pancreatic cancer, which would take his life in December.
October also brought Occupy Baltimore took over McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor, part of a national effort to protest corporate malfeasance and income disparities. Occupiers would hold down their tent city fort until mid-December, when the city ousted them in a largely peaceful pre-dawn raid.
In November, State Sen. Ulysses Currie was found not guilty of charges that he was bribed by Shoppers Food Warehouse to do its bidding in Annapolis. The ICC opened. And our Harbaugh, John, beat San Francisco's Harbaugh, Jim, on Thanksgiving Day family affair at Ravens stadium.
The year's final month would begin with the Ravens dumping McDaniels College in Westminster as its training camp. The proposed University of Maryland merger of its College Park and Baltimore campuses proved to be a no-go.
And despite the postal service planning cutbacks next year, at least some of the Christmas cards it ferried across the country this year carried a bit of Baltimore with them: A stamp featuring the Madonna of the Candelabra painting from the collection of the Walters Art Museum.
Among those who died in the year 2011:
Orioles umpire attendant Ernie Tyler, Feb. 10
Former mayor, governor, comptroller William Donald Schaefer, April 18
Numbers runner turned venture capitalist William Lloyd "Little Willie" Adams, June 27
Brice Phillips, patriarch of the Maryland seafood purveyors, July 1
John Mackey, Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer and players union leader, July 6
Founding University System of Maryland Chancellor John S. Toll, July 15
Os pitching great Mike Flanagan, Aug. 24
Pat Modell, philanthropist and wife of former Ravens owner Art Modell, Oct 12
Restaurateur and character Morris Martick, Dec. 16
Conservative talk show host Ron Smith, Dec. 19