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THE BIGGEST NEWS OF 2009

THE BALTIMORE SUN

our expert - The task of filling out this year's last 10-spot, the 10 biggest Maryland stories of 2009, fell to us on the editorial board. It immediately posed the question: Are we looking for the 10 most important stories, the 10 most interesting, the 10 most-talked-about people? We went with some of each, and a few that are a combination of all of the above.

1. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was convicted on a single charge of embezzlement. After deliberating for more than a week, a jury found her guilty of taking gift cards donated for the poor and spending them on herself and her family. The jury acquitted her on other charges and was unable to come to a decision on another. Now her future as mayor is in doubt.

2. The state, city and county governments were roiled in 2009 by a budget crisis brought on by the recession. The state has already cut more than $1 billion in spending this year and still faces a shortfall of as much as $2 billion next year. We've seen furloughs of state and local employees, layoffs and cuts in services - most notably, the rotating closure of firehouses in the city.

3. After more than a decade of debate, the state of Maryland finally awarded slot machine gambling licenses this year, though the ultimate success of the program is far from settled. The Anne Arundel County Council debated for months before approving slots at Arundel Mills mall, and a bid for slots in Baltimore collapsed amid lengthy delays in securing financing. Still, temporary facilities could be up and running on the Eastern Shore and in Cecil County within the next six months.

4. Maryland now has the most restrictive standards for the application of the death penalty of any state in the nation. Though the General Assembly declined to reject capital punishment outright, a last-minute amendment on the floor of the Senate limited the eligibility for the death penalty to cases with DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or other such objective evidence.

5. In September, a Johns Hopkins University undergraduate confronted an intruder in the yard behind his house. The student was carrying a samurai sword, and the intruder, who might have broken into the student's home earlier, lunged. The student swung his sword, and the man was killed. The story sparked a fierce debate in Baltimore over crime and vigilante justice.

6. This year, a young man and woman posing as a pimp and prostitute walked into the Baltimore offices of ACORN, the advocacy organization for the poor, and asked workers there for help in setting up a brothel to be staffed with underage illegal immigrant girls. Not only did the ACORN workers fail to call police, they gave the couple advice on how to evade income taxes. Turns out the man and woman were secretly videotaping the conversation and were able to repeat the incident, with minor variations, in several other cities. ACORN fired the employees, but it was also quickly stripped of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

7. The state Public Service Commission approved the purchase of nearly half of Constellation Energy Group's nuclear business by Electricite de France - but only after months of hearings, demands by the governor and orchestrated campaigns on both sides. The upshot is that BGE customers will get modest rate rebates and more protections to insulate the utility from its parent company. The deal also increases the likelihood that Constellation and EDF will build a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant.

8. Was it a city looking for any revenue it could grab? Was it a rival business owner out for revenge? Was it a city inspector having a bad day? Whatever the cause, after hanging aloft over The Avenue in Hampden for seven years, the giant pink flamingo erected by Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting was declared an intrusion on the public space and in need of an $800 city permit. Rather than pay the fee, Ms. Whiting took the bird down, much to the city's chagrin. After a public outcry, the city agreed to a lower fee, and a new, snazzier version of the bird is back up.

9. With the health of the Chesapeake Bay as precarious as ever, the Environmental Protection Agency announced this year that it would take charge of what had previously been a cooperative, multistate cleanup effort. The Obama administration is pushing stricter limits on pollution from farms and urban and suburban runoff, much to the chagrin of Maryland's agriculture and construction industries. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is also pushing legislation that would fund the effort and give the EPA greater legal authority to set cleanup rules.

10. Del. Jon Cardin wanted his marriage proposal to be memorable, and that it was. With the help of Baltimore police officers - and a city police helicopter - he staged a mock raid on a boat he and his girlfriend were aboard, leading to a surprise when, instead of being handcuffed, he produced a ring. Police Department brass weren't amused. Cardin reimbursed the department $300 for the expense of the incident, made a donation and apologized, but at least one officer now faces disciplinary action.

See all 10 of our top-10 lists for 2009, written by Baltimore Sun bloggers, at baltimoresun.com/10spot

Readers respond

I'm SHOCKED you didn't include the scandal when Andr?s Alonso tried to quietly hire school board ally Brian Morris to an unadvertised $175,000-a-year position. Alonso's wonder-boy image was rightfully dinged by that.

Second, I would have thought the scourge of water main breaks - particularly the crippling one on Lombard Street - would have warranted inclusion, particularly as they moved Sen. Ben Cardin to propose federal legislation apportioning billions of dollars to fix the country's crumbling infrastructure.

And while it's no surprise you chose not to include it, probably the second-biggest story of the year, after the mayor, and the saddest, was the further shrinking of The Baltimore Sun, a cherished institution.

Evan

No mention of Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins winning the Nobel for medicine - a deserved Nobel as opposed to Obama's undeserved prize?

No mention of the porn controversy in the University of Maryland where the board caved to the students?

Caravan

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