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1993: A year when the incredible seemed almost ordinary

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hours remain, but most of 1993 is history. All right, some of it is history. Much of it was merely tasteless.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

Time already for the Year in Review, another probing look at the last 52 weeks in which Baltimore did not get the ball, Michele McCloud did not get City Hall Employee of the Month and Del. John Arnick learned that the Andrew Dice Clay routine plays poorly in a mixed crowd.

It seems only yesterday we were saying: "Zoe Baird? A Peruvian baby sitter? Kimba Wood? Another troublesome baby sitter? You must be joking."

Yes, a pretty good year for incredulity.

After weeks of anticipation, excitement, disillusion and new hope, perhaps you found yourself saying: "Jacksonville? They gave the ball to Jacksonville?"

Or did you hear some news from Manassas, Va., and say: "She threw what out the car window?" Perhaps you found that even in this age of fraying moral fabric the story of Anne Arundel County High School teacher Ronald W. Price pushed things way over the edge. "He did it where? With how many students?"

Good news, of course, seemed especially unreal.

It was hard to believe that picture of Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. The whole thing had all the verve and spontaneity of a shotgun wedding, but at least they were talking about peace.

"Enough of blood and tears. Enough," said Mr. Rabin.

And then Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin shook hands. Remarkable, even if you took into account that Mr. Rabin at that moment looked as if he had just eaten a bad herring.

It had to be The Moment of the new Clinton administration. It was just a start, but this and the agreement to end white rule in South Africa provided some break from the prevailing gloom on the foreign front: upheaval in Russia, mass murder and systematic rape in Bosnia, our troops killed and a soldier dragged through the street amid the mercy mission to Somalia.

At home, it was hard to believe those pictures of the Midwest vanishing under a flood of biblical proportion. Homes, farms, livestock and enough good topsoil to grow food for a small nation, all washed away. Forty people died. The Mississippi overflowed its banks, and the rains kept coming, and the water rose again, covering an area twice the size of New Jersey.

All the while, farmers on the East Coast watched their crops wither in drought. Amid Baltimore's record summer heat and weeks without rain, the so-called "Blizzard of '93" of March seemed like something we only imagined.

It was at least unsettling to realize that international terrorism had struck in a big way on home turf. Suddenly it was not Harrods department store in London or a terminal at Athens airport, but the World Trade Center in New York. The terrorists were in our midst, walking our streets.

And when television stations broke away from afternoon soaps to show the firestorm consuming Ranch Apocalypse in Waco, one might have thought: "Is that . . .? Are all those people, all those children, really in there?"

A year of surprises

Incredible events. There were many in 1993. Yes, someone really did let convicted killer Dontay Carter jump out of a Baltimore courthouse bathroom window. Yes, someone did figure the All-Star Game was worth a week of Super Bowl-style hype.

Yes, a man with hair like Lyle Lovett really can wind up with Julia Roberts. What's up for 1994? Don King and Sharon Stone?

And Joey Buttafuoco, who went to jail for his affair with 16-year-old Amy Fisher, actually released a music video in 1993. And speaking of tastelessness, Donald Trump rose from the ashes of the 1980s, dusted himself off, ordered enough caviar to fill Camden Yards and married Marla Maples.

Say it ain't so, Michael Jordan. Say it ain't so, Michael Jackson. Say it ain't so, Boogie, Malcolm, Alfred, somebody.

A new president

It seemed a joke when somebody said our president is now younger than Mick Jagger. And Paul McCartney.

But true. William Jefferson Clinton, at 47, took office in January and spent his first few months being held hostage by baby sitters. Or so it seemed. That was about the time Mr. Clinton was trying to keep down a rebellion on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who apparently were panicked at the president's new policy on homosexuals.

What is that policy, anyway? Last time we looked it was "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue," a compromise that left nobody particularly happy.

But then, Mr. Clinton was figuring on making almost nobody happy with the biggest piece of work he envisioned for his administration: health care reform, which opponents say will have us getting X-rays at Jiffy Lube and proponents say will save us from choosing between a new car and a CAT scan.

Mr. Clinton rode a see-saw all year. In the first months, pollsters issued approval ratings roughly every 11 minutes. After 100 days, his Republican opponents declared his administration a flop, seeing as how Mr. Clinton had failed to reform health care, reduce the budget deficit, restore manufacturing jobs and reunite the Beatles.

The president did manage to get a new budget through, raise taxes, win approval of the Brady bill, win nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court and pass the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In pushing NAFTA through, it seemed Mr. Clinton had immediately created at least one job: a new credibility consultant for Ross Perot. Yes, Mr. Perot really did step in it that badly.

Bad news, better news

Jobs were swept away like so much debris along the Mississippi Basin this year. Who would have believed the tens of thousands of layoffs at bedrock American corporations such as IBM, Sears, Kodak, Boeing, Xerox, Phillip Morris? In Maryland, thousands of layoffs were announced: NationsBank, Martin Marietta and USF&G;, among others.

Some rays of light appeared on the economic scene late in the year, with improved consumer confidence, a significant jump in housing starts and continued low interest rates. The stock market set new highs.

This was good news for Mr. Clinton. But the president had little time to enjoy it, as he spent the last weeks of this year as he spent much of his campaign: quelling "bimbo eruptions." This time the allegations were more serious, as they suggested that, as governor of Arkansas, Mr. Clinton used state troopers to arrange extramarital liaisons and cover his tracks.

More sex stories

Sex was hard to avoid in the news of 1993. The saga of Ronald Price left its oily trail across newspapers for months. The criminal charges were serious, but Price apparently figured he could win his case on television. Local lawyers later were incredulous about his legal "strategy," which involved "A Current Affair," "Geraldo!" and most other live television cameras in his general vicinity.

The judge didn't think much of it either, slamming Price with a 26-year-sentence for three child abuse convictions.

Then there were John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt of Manassas, Va., a young couple who made "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" look like "The Newlywed Game." And Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood hung on in the face of mounting pressure to either resign in the face of sexual allegations or have the decency to allow his personal diaries to be turned into a TV movie.

Delegate Arnick of Dundalk managed to keep his hands to himself, but as it turned out could not keep his dinner chatter out of the sewer. This cost him a District Court judgeship in 1993. Confirmation hearings brought out the accusation that Mr. Arnick, in conversation with two women seeking his support on a domestic violence bill in 1992, used language usually heard at a misogynists' convention.

Months later, however, Mr. Arnick was restored to his old seat in the House by the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee.

It remains to be seen whether Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean will recover politically in 1994. She took indefinite leave from her job this month amid a state investigation of financial improprieties, including more than $23,000 in checks paid to a city worker named Michele McCloud, who has thus far proved as vaporous as the name suggests.

And U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume got ever more comfortable in his first full year as television talk-show host. By last count, his success in this field leaves roughly 47 Americans who do not have their own talk shows. That includes Chevy Chase, the first casualty of 1993's late-night talk war, in which Letterman is a big hit everywhere but Baltimore, where Arsenio rules.

Baltimore set a homicide record in 1993. The total of 353 as of yesterday afternoon topped the 1992 figure of 335. And that was a record, too. Nine out of 10 victims this year were African-Americans, about 40 were under 18, eight had yet to celebrate their 10th birthday.

This year saw the state close the case of one of the more horrifying murders of 1992 when two Washington men were sentenced to life in prison for killing Pam Basu in Howard County. She was dragged to death during a carjacking when her arm got caught in a seat belt.

Continuing disbelief about the conviction in an old murder case led to freedom for Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, 33, a Cambridge waterman. He'd been in prison since 1984 in the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. This year, new DNA tests proved his innocence. He was released and won a pardon this month from the governor.

"I'm a happy guy," Mr. Bloodsworth said. "It's been a long haul. It's something I've been waiting for. I can't be more grateful to God, my father and Governor Schaefer."

That was just before Christmas, providing a year-ending note about the persistence of hope. Jacksonville? Laurel? Wait a minute, didn't someone say say the Los Angeles Rams might move if we throw in the Boog Powell rib recipe?

As Mr. Rabin said, "Enough."

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