THE ABCS OF '09

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A is for Arundel Mills Mall. Ground zero for the slots debate, the regional mall is the proposed site of what would almost surely be the state's most lucrative casino. But zoning was held up for months as residents protested a development they say would increase crime and traffic. Our view: The Arundel Mills proposal is sound and has the potential to make far more money for the state than any other.

B is for bong. Michael Phelps' image took a big hit when he was photographed smoking a bong in a college dorm room. Our view: He should send Tiger Woods a thank-you card; who's going to remember his little indiscretion now?

C is for cuts. Since approving its budget for the fiscal year that began in July, Gov. Martin O'Malley has made cuts totaling more than $1 billion, and more fiscal pain is on the way next year, when Maryland could face a budget shortfall of as much as $2 billion. Our view: Broad tax increases are off the table politically, but some targeted tax increases - such as a raise in the woefully low alcohol tax - could be warranted.

D is for death penalty. The General Assembly again rejected the idea of outlawing capital punishment, but it did enact the most restrictive rules in the nation on when capital punishment can be used. Our view: Though we wish the state would outlaw executions, the restrictions should make capital punishment even rarer in Maryland than it now is.

E is for Electricit? de France. Despite a hard time from the governor's office, Constellation Energy Group sealed its deal to sell half of its nuclear business to the French-owned firm. Our view: The state's review led to some important protections for BGE customers, and the deal could be good, especially if it leads to a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.

F is for flamingo. When restaurant owner Denise Whiting was ordered to remove her iconic flamingo sculpture from Cafe Hon or pay hundreds of dollars for a "minor use" permit, she refused - and hundreds of pink flamingos blossomed on the City Hall lawn. Eventually the fee was cut in half and a new, improved bird was returned to The Avenue. Our view: Hampden wouldn't be the same without the big bird.

G is for gift cards. Mayor Sheila Dixon was convicted in city Circuit Court in December of embezzling about $600 in gift cards she had solicited from a developer. The cards were supposedly for charity, but she used them on herself. Mayor Dixon could lose her job and her pension over the matter. Our view: The mayor is trying to hang on to office while she plays out her appeals, but that creates a leadership limbo that's only going to hurt the city. She should step aside immediately.

H is for hip-hop Republicans. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee in January, promising to broaden the party's appeal to the young and to minorities. Our view: The party's subsequent civil war over ideological purity isn't the new politics the Obama generation was looking for.

I is for infield, BYOB. For the first time in years, people were told they couldn't bring their own alcohol onto the Preakness infield, leading to a smaller, tamer crowd. Our view: It was about time.

J is for Jon and Kate. Maryland-based cable channel TLC hit the big time with the televised implosion of the marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin, stars of "Jon & Kate Plus 8." Our view: Louis Rukeyser, Maryland TV misses you.

K is for Kiefaber, Tom. The longtime owner of the Senator Theatre was forced to relinquish control as his debts mounted, bringing an end to the Art Deco landmark's use as a first-run theater. Our view: It's sad, but it was necessary for the city and state to stop sinking money into a business model that wasn't working. It's encouraging, though, that bidders to take over the theater intend to continue showing movies.

L is for leash law. Baltimore canine lovers howled over the city's efforts to increase the fine for having a dog off leash from $100 to $1,000. After massive protests, the fee was dropped to $200 for a first-time offender. Our view: The fine was egregious, but c'mon, people, leash that lab!

M is for millionaires. The fate of the state's most well-to-do has become a burning political concern as people debate whether a surcharge on top earners has caused people to flee the state. Our view: We're guessing the recession, not the tax, has more to do with the sudden decline in million-dollar earners.

N is for nepotism. Shortly before his term as city school board chairman expired, Brian D. Morris' colleagues voted to create for him a new position as schools CEO Andr?s Alonso's top deputy, earning at least $175,000 a year. The board did not advertise the position, and it did not conduct a background check on Mr. Morris. If it had, it would have discovered a string of lawsuits and bad debt claims against him. Our view: This is why jobs should be advertised and awarded competitively. To his credit, Mr. Alonso apologized.

O is for Obama. The president-elect emulated part of Abraham Lincoln's train trip to his inauguration, and he stopped and gave a speech in War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore. Thousands stood in the cold for hours to hear him speak. Our view: It's a good thing Mr. Obama didn't have to hew too closely to the Baltimore portion of President Lincoln's trip - Abe had to sneak through Southern-sympathizing Baltimore in the dead of night to avoid the possibility of trouble.

P is for populism. From tea party protests to rowdy crowds at Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin's town hall meetings on health care reform, anger was in vogue for conservatives in Maryland and elsewhere. Our view: Despite their fervor, the protesters fortunately haven't killed health care reform.

Q is for quadratic equation. That's just one of many things Maryland students apparently don't know when they get to college. Despite the state's No. 1 ranking in

education, students struggle with math when they graduate, and big disparities in quality remain across the state. Our view: Thanks to prodding from the Obama administration, overdue reforms may be coming on teacher tenure and other issues.

R is for Ray Rice. Joe Flacco has his ups and downs, and the defense isn't quite what it used to be. But through it all, Ray Rice, the 5-foot, 8-inch running back, is drawing comparisons to a young Barry Sanders. Our view: With another losing season by the Orioles, 2009 helped cement Baltimore as a die-hard football town.

S is for samurai sword. Early in the morning of Sept. 15, Johns Hopkins undergraduate John Pontolillo and his roommates searched outside their house to try to find an intruder they believed had broken in earlier. Mr. Pontolillo brought a samurai sword from his room. He found the man and, when the intruder lunged at him, he swung, killing the man. Our view: Many saw the incident as heroic, but in truth, it was tragic for all involved.

T is for tolls. The state plans to charge motorists as much as $12 a day to commute on the Intercounty Connector, which is under construction in the D.C. suburbs. Don't plan on using the ICC? You still may not be able to escape unscathed: Tolls on the rest of the system could increase by as much as 45 percent within the next two years. Our view: As long as leaders in Annapolis remain unwilling to increase the gas tax or find some other way to pay for Maryland's mounting transportation needs, high tolls are going to be the way of the future.

U is for undercover filmmakers. In September, political activists/filmmakers James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles released secret videos they'd made of themselves going into Baltimore's ACORN office and pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute, only to have the workers there offer advice on how to avoid paying taxes for their supposed scheme to set up a brothel with underage, illegal immigrants. The video was followed up by similar ones from other cities. Our view: At The Sun, we don't condone duplicity in the reporting process, but there's no denying that the videos exposed serious problems at ACORN.

V is for Voltaggio. Frederick native Michael Voltaggio took first prize on Bravo's reality show "Top Chef," but big brother Brian, the chef/owner of Frederick's Volt restaurant, who came in second, now has the hottest tables in the state. Our view: Brian Voltaggio, a calm, steady culinary technician, came across as serious and dedicated, devoted both to local, seasonal cuisine and to his family. Here's hoping he stays in Frederick and helps that city's cultural scene blossom.

W is for wedding proposal, boneheaded. Del. Jon Cardin got some help when he popped the question to his fianc?e: Police staged a fake raid on the boat the two of them were on in the Inner Harbor while a police helicopter hovered overhead. The stunt didn't dissuade her from saying yes, but it did prompt a public outcry about the misuse of resources. Our view: Mr. Cardin paid a paltry $300 in restitution and made a donation to the city's mounted unit, but one of the police officers involved could lose his job over it. That hardly seems just.

X is for XXX-rated films. The University of Maryland College Park made headlines in the spring with a plan to screen a pornographic film in a campus theater. In response, legislators considered cutting off funding for the university unless it quashed the plan. Our take: The only thing dumber than the idea of screening porn in the student union was the notion that the University System of Maryland should be the first one in the country to develop a policy on the issue. Fortunately, the Board of Regents let matters lie.

Y is for youth violence. The city was on edge for weeks amid reports that groups of young thugs were terrorizing people in the Inner Harbor. Then there was the fatal beating in Crofton of 14-year-old Christopher Jones, who had resisted joining a gang. And the pink flip-flops left on the street after 5-year-old Raven Wyatt was shot and killed in crossfire were this year's saddest reminder of the toll of violence in Baltimore. Our view: Despite years of reform efforts, Maryland is still unable to cope with violent youth.

Z is for zebra mussels. The tiny bivalves are just the latest threat to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Add that to the list of problems caused by human activity in the ecosystem, chiefly excess nitrogen from sewers and farms. Our view: The federal government has taken a welcome, activist role in bay cleanup, but there's a long way to go.

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