Top 10 of 2010

Weather, crime, politics, corruption among Maryland's top news stories of the past year

December 25, 2010

The year wasn't a week old when Mayor Sheila Dixon announced, on Jan. 6, that she was resigning as part of a plea deal to end a corruption investigation. Her exit a month later catapulted City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake into the hot seat as Baltimore's 49th chief executive.

The new mayor's pledge: To "build a better, safer, stronger Baltimore." But first, she had to help the city dig itself out. Back-to-back blizzards dumped several feet of snow, briefly turning Baltimore into Syracuse-on-the- Patapsco.

Later in the year, a different double-whammy -- two major fires -- struck downtown in a span of hours. Miraculously, there were few injuries and no deaths, but just a week later yet another blaze killed six members of one family.

This year also brought its share of high-profile crimes: A doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital was shot and wounded by an elderly patient's distraught son. Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player from Cockeysville, was killed in Charlottesville, Va. An off-duty Baltimore police officer fatally shot an unarmed ex-Marine outside a Mount Vernon nightclub.

And it was a year of political change beyond City Hall. City voters ousted State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy in September's Democratic primary, electing a new top prosecutor, Gregg Bernstein, who declared winning the easy part: "The tough part, making Baltimore safe, starts now."

Some local issues made it all the way to Congress. Questions about the necessity of heart stents implanted by a doctor at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson spurred a U.S. Senate investigation. And The Baltimore Sun revealed a Baltimore police culture of discarding rape reports -- revelations that prompted congressional hearings and sweeping reforms.

Here are the biggest stories of the past year:

Heart stents under scrutiny

Allegations that Dr. Mark G. Midei placed unnecessary stents in hundreds of patients at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson reverberated all the way up to the U.S. Senate, which launched an investigation questioning whether stent maker Abbott Laboratories "indirectly encouraged" superfluous procedures by offering perks and payments.

Midei has denied the accusations, which have yet to be ruled on in court, and an administrative law judge is expected to say by spring whether Midei should keep his medical license. But the case had wide-reaching effects after becoming public in January.

State lawmakers said they plan to pass legislation tightening hospital oversight during the General Assembly session that starts next month. Hospitals across Maryland have revamped internal supervision since Midei's firing for allegedly placing unnecessary cardiac stents, which prop open clogged arteries.

Abbott, which threw a crab feast and a pig roast at Midei's Monkton home, hired him as an overseas consultant, but the press got "too hot" to keep him on board, according to internal e-mails, one of which suggested roughing up a Baltimore Sun columnist covering the story.

Midei and St. Joseph, which sent warning letters to 585 potentially wronged patients, both face dozens of lawsuits, and Midei says no one will hire him. The doctor also sued the hospital that once employed him, claiming it fraudulently ruined his reputation and career.

—Tricia Bishop

Dixon out, Rawlings-Blake in

On a gray February morning, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon sat stiffly as a judge informed her she would be marked with a "badge of dishonor" for the rest of her life. Within hours, Dixon had given up the perks of office, though she managed to take an $83,000 annual pension with her.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, vowing to reform the city's ethics policies, was sworn in to succeed her.

The new mayor's signature in the city's leather-bound registry scarcely had time to dry before the first flakes began to fall in a record-breaking pair of blizzards that paralyzed the city — the first of several crises Rawlings-Blake would face as mayor. Soon she was confronted by a $121 million budget shortfall and a beleaguered public safety pension system that sparked a federal lawsuit.

Once a reticent legislator, Rawlings-Blake was thrust into the public eye, managing the city's challenges with quiet poise. She reorganized city departments, fired many Dixon stalwarts and moved swiftly to change the composition and tenure of the city's ethics board.

Dixon, out of the limelight after 23 years in elected office, has been working through 500 hours of community service mandated by her plea.

Her resignation ended a four-year corruption investigation and a protracted legal battle on charges that she stole gift cards from needy families and failed to report lavish gifts from a developer and former boyfriend on city ethics forms.

Barred from holding office for two years while on probation, the former mayor has grown outspokenly critical of the Rawlings-Blake administration as the year progressed — and hinted that she may run again.

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