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Top 10 news stories of 2008

Change Did You Good

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10. Scarborough Struggle

If anyone thought that Wallace Scarborough would just accept defeat in his failed reelection bid for S.C. House District 115, they've obviously never been caught in his backyard on a dark and stormy night. The race was already destined to be a nail-biter after the Republican's slim 40-vote victory in 2006. The drama this year started early when Eugene Platt, who lost the Democratic Primary, attempted to run under a third party. The Dems successfully blocked his appearance on the ballot, recognizing that an already close race could be easily tipped by a left-leaning third choice. Scarborough would lose by just over 200 votes to Democrat Anne Peterson Hutto, but he claims hundreds of James Island residents voted illegally, and he's taking his challenge to the very Republican-controlled House that voters just kicked him out of.

In 2009: Peterson Hutto will already have been a voting member for weeks before Scarborough's challenge potentially makes it to the floor of the House. If he's successful, legislators could call for a new election, likely putting Scarborough, Peterson Hutto, and, most importantly, Platt, back on the ballot.

9. Hanna, Fanna, Fohanna

As Mother Nature is wont to do, she gives Charleston one good storm to fret over before leaving us untouched and sending it up the coast to Myrtle Beach. Really, when forecasters call for Charleston to get hit, watch out Grand Strand. This year's offering was Hurricane Hanna (without the second "h" — how metropolitan). Right up to the end, emergency management officials were cagey about exactly where the storm was headed. Schools and public facilities were closed. Offices shut their doors early and local residents were sent home to bravely face the slight breeze of the evening storm.

In 2009: It's the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, so expect long-time locals to be a little more anxious than usual come hurricane season. Meanwhile, the rest of us who have sat through one hurricane warning too many will likely sink further into unpreparedness, leading to a stiff drop in the sale of batteries, beans, and hurricane maps.

8. Walking Under the Influence

Charleston Police Chief Gregg Mullen's philosophical focus on smaller crimes to prevent larger crimes usually draws support — unless those smaller crimes involve drunk revelers. Citing a city ordinance on open containers, officers began ticketing participants at downtown art and design walks where galleries and boutiques keep their doors and their wine bottles open after hours. Police also threatened tickets for tailgaters at the Dave Matthews Band concert on July 4, rubbing this sore spot to the bone. The criticism that swiftly followed led the department to patrol the parking lot, but they didn't hand out one open container ticket, even though witnesses reported rampant libations.

In 2009: The chief makes no apologies for his approach to law enforcement, and, if Mullen finds improvement in reducing crime, a few tough-to-swallow fines may be the tough price for success.

7. Complete This Sentence

Former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, caught in a drug sting in 2007 and convicted of handing out cocaine to his friends, began serving 10 months in a federal prison in Georgia in May. Interviews released after his conviction revealed that Ravenel had sung like a canary, pointing out a wide array of locals with whom he shared his stash — though the names have been kept from the press. By the end of the year, he'd been transferred to a halfway house in North Charleston, where he could transition back into the community. Meanwhile, fallen economic guru Al Parish was sentenced in June to 24 years in federal prison for bilking investors out of more than $66 million. Pleas from his defense attorneys for lenience due to the fact that Parish is fat and has a history of heart issues were unsuccessful.

In 2009: Ravenel will be back on the streets on March 27 while we wait, likely in vain, for the rest of his well-placed cocaine posse to get theirs. Parish will start on his second year in prison, hopefully by fulfilling a resolution to eat from the heart-friendly menu.

6. Of Sterility and Bitches

In April, former Charleston County School Board Chairwoman Nancy Cook delved into the delicate topic of deadbeat parents and their delinquent kids in a radio interview. Prompted for a solution to the problem, Cook went rogue — way rogue.

"We're not paying for another baby, maybe one, but after that we're taking the baby and maybe you get sterilized," she said.

School board member Arthur Ravenel raised his own stink in the spring when he threatened Superintendent Nancy McGinley's job and called her a bitch. Ravenel at first denied using the nasty word, but later admitted to it. He was given a stern talking to by fellow board members, but he essentially tossed aside the whole event. NAACP officials and parents called for both board members to resign. Neither did.

In 2009: Ravenel is still on the board, holding his tongue on exactly what he thinks of all 'dem lady folk. But it can't be long before this crowd shows their contempt for somebody.

No. 5: South Carolina — No, really. We have proof
  • No. 5: South Carolina — No, really. We have proof

5. South Carolina Is "So Gay"

You have to wonder if the gay Londoners targeted by the "South Carolina Is So Gay" ads were thinking the same thing those of us who really know this state did: "South Carolina? Really?" S.C. tourism officials authorized the ads. Similar ads were bought highlighting Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., without controversy. But S.C. officials, scared to death that gays might actually feel welcome here, got angry and refused to pay the bill.

In 2009: We've been contacted twice by gay visitors, though not from London, who were planning trips and worried that South Carolina wasn't safe, so it's our guess that gay tourists will be looking elsewhere — like Atlanta, Las Vegas, or Washington, D.C.

4. Rise of the Saggy Pants

Perhaps convinced that the city should put the fashion police on the beat, former Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard made a battle against wearing your britches around your knees his final crusade. His proposal to fine offenders followed similar ordinances elsewhere, but it never made it to a vote in Charleston due to other council members worried about imposing such strenuous dress codes — and what kind of sparkles will be used on the hall monitor sash.

No. 4: "When your pants are down, your pride is down," says former city councilman Wendell Gilliard - KAITLYN ISERMAN
  • Kaitlyn Iserman
  • No. 4: "When your pants are down, your pride is down," says former city councilman Wendell Gilliard

In 2009: Gilliard has moved on to the state House of Representatives, where Sen. Robert Ford has already introduced a bill that would create a statewide ban on saggy pants (though it's safe to say the measure won't go far).

3. Sofa Store Fallout

The June 2007 blaze that killed nine Charleston firefighters left much to be resolved in 2008. Critics had suggested that the fire department was partly to blame for the fatalities, but it wasn't until days before a report from an independent investigation in May that Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas announced his plans to resign. The report that followed cited failures in staffing, training, and equipment at the department, as well as a careless, cavalier attitude toward fighting fires. Thomas was replaced by Thomas Carr, a Maryland fire chief.

In 2009: The Charleston Police Department has only recently handed over its finding to the county solicitor for a possible criminal case, while several civil cases brought by the families of the firefighters work their way through the court system.

2. Sir, Can You Spare Three-Quarters of a Trillion Dollars?

If the buzz word of '08 was "change," the buzz word of '09 looks to be "furlough." What started with the burst of the housing bubble moved on to the bust of the credit industry and the blah of the ... well, just about every other economic sector. The school district, the South Carolina Aquarium, and various universities announced mandatory furloughs — and they were the lucky ones. Private sector jobs, particularly in manufacturing, were being cut throughout the area.

In 2009: Develop a stronger stomach and start drinking. But, seriously, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and others have already made personal pitches to President-elect Barack Obama for new jobs and infrastructure that might spur development.

1. In Our Lifetime

Whoever said that work productivity falls off the most during March Madness has never been in a newsroom while a pitbull with lipstick talks about the terrorist ties of the man who would become our next president. Barack Obama's win is the story of the year, but November's election had a wealth of news. Democrats in Charleston County won several seats on the County Council and a new Statehouse seat. And Linda Ketner came surprisingly close to beating Republican Congressman Henry Brown in a hard-fought campaign highlighting Brown's stumbles, most notably his attempts to intimidate investigators regarding a fire he started that swept into a nearby national forest.

In 2009: We've got City Council elections around the corner, but the real fun will be in 2010, when a new governor is selected and Brown has to face competition again, with Congressional Democratic leaders already eyeing his seat.

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