2012 in review

It won't take much more than a few minutes into the new year to see the impact of the old one, with Baltimore's City Hall opening at midnight to begin performing same-sex marriages under a law that takes effect on Jan. 1.

But if the state's newly expanded marriage law provides the most immediate dividing line between then and now, it was far from the only one. Looking back, 2012 emerges as a gatepost of a year, one that will be remembered for both grand beginnings and bittersweet endings.

The year saw swimmer Michael Phelps bid adieu to his dazzling Olympic career, while the Orioles re-introduced themselves to the postseason. It was also a year in which Baltimore officially lost its last Fortune 500 company, but opened its first $1 billion building, a new Johns Hopkins hospital.

We were spared the massive snow dumps of recent years, and the kind of devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought in New York and New Jersey, even as we were schooled on a new, at least to us, kind of storm: the derecho, which knocked out power to more than 762,000 BGE customers.

The door revolved at the top of several area colleges, and at City Hall, with officials such as Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld exiting. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon re-emerged after being charged with a probation violation (it was resolved), while Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold was indicted for misconduct (charges he denies).

And finally, there were changes that initially seemed small but stood for larger shifts in our collective landscape: The city evicting the old-fashioned carousel from an Inner Harbor increasingly dominated by national chains, and the Columbia Association dropping the Kumbaya-like "people tree" from its logo in favor of a more streamlined design that would "read" better on social media.

Here is a more in-depth look at the year as it unfolded on various fronts:

Baltimore spent much of the year film-doubling as Washington for productions such as HBO's Veep and Netflix's House of Cards.

In real life, the Baltimore area seemed in the midst of its own role change: February brought the news that Exelon, which had swallowed up the city's last Fortune 500 company, Constellation Energy, would build its local headquarters near nouveau Harbor East rather than in the traditional downtown.

The year closed with the inevitable yet sad final chapter of Sparrows Point — the once-thriving steel mill is essentially being sold off for parts and eventually will be razed.

Against this backdrop, the April opening of the new, $1.1 billion Johns Hopkins hospital seemed a signal moment in the city's move away from its blue-collar past and toward a future dominated by the health care and education sectors. The hospital's dedication also brought what must have been quite the charming scene as Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor and major Hopkins benefactor, shared his Passover matzo with fellow big-money donor, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.

A year's worth of change on the area's college campuses began in January, with Towson University naming an alumna, Maravene S. Loeschke, to its presidency — the first theater major to ascend to the school's top post.

The following month, Notre Dame of Maryland University announced, "It's a boy!" when naming James Conneely as the first male president in the school's 116-year history.

By year's end, three colleges would move to force out presidents. After a no-confidence vote from the faculty earlier in the year, Coppin State University's Reginald Avery resigned in October. Then, in announcements just a day apart, Morgan State's David J. Wilson and Baltimore City Community College's Carolane Williams were ousted — although Wilson ultimately was given another year on the job.

But perhaps the biggest campus move, at least for sports fans, was the decision by the University of Maryland College Park to spurn its nearly 60-year relationship with the Atlantic Coast Conference to jump into the arms of the Big Ten.

The area's professional teams brought much cheer this year: As Camden Yards celebrated its 20th year, the groundbreaking park hosted its first winning team since 1997. Fans "BUCKled Up" and road the summer-into-fall rollercoaster with a team of over-achievers, enjoying the ride until it ended in New York, where the Orioles lost the division series to the Yankees.

For the Ravens, a year that began with the excrutiating, dropped-touchdown, missed-field-goal loss in the AFC championship ended with the team winning its division and heading into the postseason for the fifth year in a row.

All this, and Michael Phelps, too. The Rodgers Forge native capped an already golden career by becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time in the London Games. Having brought his medal count to 22, 18 of them gold, Phelps closed out the year on the cover of Sports Illustrated, where fans voted his fourth and final Olympics as the best Moment of the Year.

There were milestones back home as well: The Baltimore Sun turned 175 years old in May. But the biggest party came in mid-June, with Sailabration marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which brought America the Star-Spangled Banner. Tall ships and Blue Angels, throngs at the harbor and the BSO's premier of Philip Glass' Overture for 2012 made for an often magical several days in Baltimore.

Time passed for some of the area's noteworthy figures in 2012: William P. Carey, the mega-philanthropist whose family name graces law and business schools in Baltimore, died in January; followed by beloved Canton restaurateur Patrick "Scunny" McCusker in August; Art Modell, who brought the NFL back to Baltimore, in September; civil rights patriarch Clarence Mitchell in October; and Donnie Edwards, the thug who found redemption and inspired the character Omar in David Simon's "The Wire," in December.

On the crime front, Baltimore began 2012 having seen its murder rate drop below 200 the year before, for the first time in more than three decades. But by year's end, it was ticking back up, providing a challenge for Anthony Batts, the new police commissioner named in August to replace Bealefeld.

It was a year of often horrifying crimes: A 16-year-old was charged with killing his father in Harford County in January; a 21-year-old Morgan State student was arrested in May and accused of killing and cannibalizing a family friend; a 15-year-old Perry Hall High School student was accused of firing into the cafeteria on the first day of classes in August and critically wounded a classmate.

Crimes from previous years wended their way through the court system: In February, a Charlottesville, Va., jury found George Huguely guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend and fellow U. Va lacrosse player Yeardley Love, a Cockeysville native. In June, Barry Landau, who had been pilfering historic documents from museums up and down the East Coast until nabbed at the Maryland Historical Society, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

A Supreme Court ruling in March opened the possibility that serial child rapist John Merzbacher could be freed from prison because his attorneys hadn't told him about a plea deal. In November, the Supreme Court announced it would review the state's DNA law, which allows police to collect and store genetic samples from those arrested even if they are ultimately not charged or convicted.

In politics, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake not only began her first year as Baltimore's elected mayor, having served out the remainder of her predecessor's term, but also essentially won an extra year in office when voters approved of moving the mayor's election year to coincide with the presidential race.

The city, though, was beset by a range of billing problems, often revealed by The Sun: Property tax assessments and water bills were riddled with errors, while speed cameras issued tickets to drivers abiding by the limit or even stopped at a light.

The city schools, meanwhile, were slapped with a critical state audit that found millions of dollars in questionable expenditures in overtime, sick leave, vacation pay and expired contracts.

Less seriously, the best-selling erotica, "Fifty Shades of Gray," was deemed too hot for Harford, or at least its county library, while it was sugary drinks that were banned at Howard County's public properties and events.

The General Assembly failed to pass a state budget during its regular session, prompting a special session to avoid a "doomsday" budget of more than $500 million in cuts — our own version of the fiscal cliff. Then it held a second special session to throw together a gambling expansion plan that could be brought before voters in November.

After a record $95 million spent by forces for and against the measure, flooding the airwaves with endless ads, the referendum passed, authorizing a casino in Prince George's County and table games in all state casinos. Meanwhile, the state's largest casino, Maryland Live, opened at Arundel Mills in June.

Maryland voters in November also approved the Dream Act, which will allow some students brought illegally to the U.S. as children to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

Election Day also brought Maryland into the fold of states that extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. As a result, some couples are planning just-after-midnight weddings on Jan. 1 — meaning that they'll spend New Year's Eve counting down the final moments of 2012, and preparing for the first moments of their married lives.



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