Top 10 news stories of 2009 

Guess who won.

It was the unbelievable disappointment heard around the world — a hero's impenetrable armor turned out to be laden with chinks. It is the story that 2009 will be remembered for.

Of course, we're talking about photos of Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps sucking on a bong at a Columbia house party. Stories about high-priced gambling on beer pong followed, leaving the world to assume the next story would be Phelps taking a dump on the dean's lawn. But it never came.

Instead, Gov. Mark Sanford proved that South Carolina doesn't reward gold medals in childish public behavior to someone from "off." And Tiger Woods proved that golf is indeed a team sport.

Lord Byron wrote in Don Juan that, "Dead scandals form good subjects for dissection." It is with that in mind that we sharpen our scalpel for a look at the last year.

10. Councilwoman goes wild

As frequent purveyors of Charleston police reports, we have read about many tame DUI incidents. Charleston City Councilwoman Deborah Morinelli's arrest following an accident was not one of those cases.

According to police, Morinelli was found on Ashley River Road in late June with her car in a ditch. She told officers that she "had two bottles of wine." Mini-bottles were found in her purse and in the car. She also told police that she'd been at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that morning. The dashboard camera from the arrest, showing Morinelli as a muddy mess, only added to the awkward understanding that this local political embarrassment was a personal tragedy.

While she had planned to take a month off to seek treatment, it wasn't until early December that she returned to City Council meetings.

In 2010: Prior to the arrest, Morinelli had said she would not seek a third term on council. Historical preservation activist Blake Hallman will replace her on council representing District 2 at the first meeting in January.

9. Charleston protects gays and lesbians

No one would mistake South Carolina as a pioneer when it comes to gay and lesbian issues — what with the state's resounding opposition to gay marriage in 2006, the "South Carolina is so gay" PR disaster of 2008, and the homophobic and proudly anti-gay Sen. Jim DeMint.

But it was probably that reputation that gave Charleston a bit more national exposure when the City Council voted overwhelmingly to extend Charleston's existing non-discrimination policy regarding renting and selling property to include LGBT people.

The city also introduced fresh protections for gays and other minorities regarding publicly-accessible businesses, like hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and stores.

Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the local gay rights advocacy group Alliance for Full Acceptance, says the move not only aids locals, but gay and lesbian visitors, too.

"This ordinance protects people from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave," he said of Charleston's LGBT tourists.

In 2010: South Carolina Equality, which coordinated the campaign for the ordinance in Charleston (as well as Columbia in 2008) is expected to move on to other progressive municipalities in the state in hopes of building on the Lowcountry success.

8. Katherine Waring missing, body found

Downtown resident Katherine Waring, 28, was last seen at her home on June 12. Missing person posters peppered storefronts across the region and Friends of Kate Waring, a largely web-based movement, offered $25,000 for information in the case. Early in the investigation, authorities suggested she may have been traveling to Greenville, and cops even took a trip to scour a riverbank in Anderson County.

That is why it was with some surprise that Waring's body was found in a gated Wadmalaw Island community in early October; soon after, two arrests were made relating to the case. Heather Kamp and Ethan Mack have been charged with obstruction of justice, as well as forgery charges stemming from an attempt to cash an unauthorized check from Waring's account four days after her disappearance. Terry Keith Williams has also been charged with obstruction of justice.

The mystery has deepened with courtroom drama. Private investigators hired by family friend Andy Savage found Waring's body. Authorities instantly seized one investigator's car and the materials in it. The vehicle was eventually returned, but a gag order was placed on the case.

In 2010: They found the body, but the back-and-forth over the investigation continues. Last week, prosecutors requested an episode of Savage's cable access show Savage Report that included an interview with one of the private investigators. Attorney Jay Bender told The Post and Courier that Savage would likely fight the subpoena.

7. Graham goes left, DeMint goes right

Last month, The New York Times called the wide river between the conservative philosophies of Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, "contrasting strategies (that) have brought home to South Carolina the struggle over the future of the Republican Party." We made the same argument in July, but it really doesn't matter who got there first.

Labeled a troublemaking outsider by his fellow Republicans heading into '09, DeMint is ending the year with the last laugh. Limited success by the Democratic leadership and the fevered celebrity of conservative personalities like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have changed things.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in the Charleston County Republican Party. The group sent out a blanket endorsement, supporting municipal candidates approved by the Tea Party leadership. Weeks later, the local GOP censured Graham for a host of abuses, but mainly for his attempts to cooperate with Democrats on immigration and climate change legislation.

In 2010: The right will likely be throwing more rocks in Graham's direction, with the Congressional focus moving off healthcare (where Graham has stood solidly with other conservatives) and on to the very issues where his leadership has enraged Republicans: the environment and immigration reform.

6. Green isn't out ... yet

The grass wasn't the only thing getting greener in 2009. If there was one thing you could say the Obama administration got right, it was the environment. It's been said that war picked this country up and out of the Great Depression. When historians look back at the current recession, they may well hang the exit sign over new environmental policies and billions of dollars dedicated to environmental reforms (both nationwide and on local levels) .

There are new state and national tax breaks for energy efficient materials and appliances. There's a renewed push for public transportation and a general understanding that we, as Americans, have got to get out of our cars more often. And, on a local level, a city committee has created an expansive vision for a green Charleston. A vision that not only supports sustainability, it lays out a map to follow words with action.

North Charleston also had welcome news this year, with a $45 million federal grant for a wind turbine facility.

In 2010: Yeah, about that green year. City Council was only asked to support the general plan laid out in the Green Committee's work, but it couldn't provide the votes. With the council expected to get even more conservative with fresh faces in the New Year, it may well be up to grassroots activists to paint this town green.

5. André Bauer isn't out, either

One of the unintended consequences of Mark Sanford's trip to Argentina was the whiplash-inducing rise of Lt. Gov. André Bauer's political fortunes — at least for a short time. Often overlooked as the director of the state's senior programs, Bauer got everyone's attention when he was one tearful resignation away from the state's top spot. As it became evident that Sanford wasn't going to go down without a fight, there was still the chorus of state legislators calling for his ouster, suggesting that Bauer still had a shot for early admittance to the governor's office.

Now, there is only one thing that Bauer has secured in all of this mess — the unwanted attention of national gay activist Michael Rogers. The blogger, who has been outing hypocritical Republicans in Washington for years, turned his spotlight on Bauer in late August, due in large part to the attention the lieutenant governor received during the Sanford scandal.

Rogers claims to have spoken with two men who have slept with Bauer as well as another man who claims the lieutenant governor tried to pick him up. Waiting for any new morsel to drag out the Sanford story, the national media ran with the outing when a Bauer ally, state Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington), publicly accused Sanford and his supporters of orchestrating what he considered a smear campaign.

In 2010: Bauer's in a very competitive Republican Primary race to replace Sanford in 2010. The gay rumors may steal away some votes, but most everybody in this race has a little baggage.

4. Economic crisis, meet stimulus

Sure, you were kissing people indiscriminately during the first minutes of Jan. 1, 2009, but one "old acquaintance" that would be forgot was your employer. Pink slips fell across the Lowcountry.

Though some Lowcountry businesses closed their doors this year, the real victims of the recession have been the massive developments slowed, stalled, or shuttled into the trash can. We're thinking particularly of projects planned for the neck area (City Paper's stomping grounds), as well as large, barren residential communities throughout the area with only a handful of homes built.

Hope came early with the federal stimulus plan. Local municipalities chased after every dollar. The city received some of the first round of funding for the new Arthur C. Christopher Gym and needed roof repairs to the city's public housing. But, the most important assistance likely came in the form of unemployment benefits for those hoping they can toast better fortunes in 2010 — and kiss more people.

In 2010: All indications are that the recovery will be slow, with most companies likely hesitant to take on more employees. On the stimulus front, local officials are still looking for money — most notably the more than $125 million needed for flood repairs on the Crosstown.

3. Joe Wilson and "You lie"

There's a quiet timidity about Congressman Joe Wilson when he approaches a family eating breakfast at Blackstones in Beaufort (the southern tip of his oddly-shaped Congressional district). There's a determination about him, but neither "leadership" nor "big mouth" would fit this guy.

That's why most people who know Wilson (including his wife, by the way) were shocked when they found out that he was the rogue Congressman who shouted out "You lie!" when President Barack Obama stood in front of a joint session of Congress and said illegal immigrants would not receive healthcare under proposed Democratic reforms.

Wilson's charge, memorialized forever in a red-faced Associated Press photo, served dual purposes. It galvanized right-wing opponents to reform, while also sending a signal to the rest of America that Republicans were more worried about scoring points in the ring than running the country. The outburst filled his coffers, as well as those of his likely Democratic opponent, Bob Miller.

In an interview with Parade magazine, former President George H.W. Bush said he was offended by Wilson's comment.

"There has to be a certain decorum and civility," he said. "And that was just smashed. I thought, 'How low have we gotten here?'"

In 2010: Wilson has done some fundraising for Republicans across the country, but national leaders in the Democratic Party still see him as vulnerable in November.

2. "Boeing lands here"

Some days, you forget to pick up a newspaper. Okay, most days you don't pick up the newspaper. But there are certain days you can't miss it. Days when a physical memento is worth far more than the 75-cent cover price. Oct. 29 was one of those days, with The Post and Courier proclaiming, "Boeing Lands Here." A pitched battle for the company's second Dreamliner manufacturing facility pitted an ancillary North Charleston plan against the company's long-time investment in the state of Washington.

A $450 million incentives package, including tax cuts and local government loans, sweetened the deal, but it likely boiled down to an anti-union sentiment in South Carolina. The Lowcountry clinched the deal after local workers severed union ties and the unions in the Northwest couldn't make a promise not to strike.

The company is expected to bring tons of jobs to the region, at least 3,800, and that doesn't include suppliers and other aerospace industry leaders that might make the trip, too.

In 2010: Expect more announcements from Boeing as construction on the facility moves forward. The company has already said it will replicate every aspect of construction to ensure manufacturing is seamless, even in the face of future strikes at facilities in Washington.

1. Lame, exotic duck

By early June, Gov. Mark Sanford appeared to be having a great 2009. Other state Republican leaders were at odds with the governor's principled approach to lower taxes and spending cuts, but a national movement toward fiscal conservatism seemed to be rising in tandem with Sanford's headline-grabbing refusal to accept federal stimulus money. He wasn't a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, but Sanford has been behind in elections before and eventually won with little more than determination. That, and the help of his wife, Jenny, of course.

But, what we didn't know was that Jenny Sanford had found e-mails in January that revealed an affair between the governor and an Argentinian woman he'd met years ago, but whom he'd only begun seeing in mid-2008. And we didn't know that Mark Sanford and his spiritual adviser Warren "Cubby" Culbertson went to New York in the spring for a meeting with the governor's paramour, Maria Belen Chapur to end the affair. Apparently, it didn't take.

When the governor visited Charleston in mid-June for a hurricane season press stop, he mentioned in passing that "Jenny and the boys" were staying at the Sullivan's Island home while he was in Columbia. But what we didn't know was that Jenny Sanford had left him temporarily, hoping that 30 days away from his family would bring him around. That obviously didn't take either.

Telling his staff and his wife that he was headed for a solitary hike on the Appalachian Trail, Sanford commandeered a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division suburban, with hiking shoes and other paraphernalia in tow, but instead of hitting the hills, he went to the Columbia airport and boarded a plane. His final destination was Argentina.

When word got out that the governor was out of town and unreachable, the first mistake from the governor's office was an attempt to keep Sanford's whereabouts a secret, while, at the same time, attempting to assure reporters that the state was in good hands — it was just unclear whose hands they were speaking of. Vague responses from Jenny Sanford about where her husband was for Father's Day weekend didn't help, either.

The administration finally gave up the governor's top secret location as they knew it: the Appalachian Trail. Of course, the trail brought its own challenges after blog reports that it was an unofficial naturalist weekend. Word then came from his staff that the governor had been contacted, and he was coming home early.

But it was soon evident that he wasn't coming home from the trail. A CNN reporter working off of a lead found the missing SLED Suburban at the Columbia airport, with a hat and hiking shoes still sitting in the passenger seat. The governor's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, modified his persistent claim that Sanford was hiking, adding that "as far as he knew" Sanford was on the trail.

There was something else that was getting dusted off — e-mails between Sanford and his lover that had been forwarded to The State newspaper by an unknown party. They were love notes, with comments about tan lines and well-proportioned breasts, but it was unclear whether they were legitimate.

On a hunch, the paper sent reporter Gina Smith driving through the night to meet a plane from Argentina at the Atlanta International Airport. It was early the next morning when Sanford walked off the plane. Approached by Smith, the governor created a new lie, likely on the fly. He said he'd gone to Argentina for some alone time. Pressed several times about who he was with, Sanford maintained that he was alone.

At a weepy, tearful press conference, the governor admitted most everything. He'd been unfaithful to his wife — things had "sparked" with a "dear friend" in Argentina a year earlier. So shaken by, well, who can say — embarrassment, grief, loss — Sanford was eventually pulled from the podium by aids.

The press conference was universally labeled a public relations nightmare, but that was nothing compared to what was to come. The governor had to do a little more damage control. Sanford had "crossed the line" with other women and needed to get that out before someone else did. Unfortunately for Sanford, he didn't stop there. He referred longingly to Chapur as his "soulmate," saying that he would try to learn to love his wife again.

His closest allies began advising Sanford privately to resign. The Associated Press began unraveling travel records, finding the 2008 trip that "sparked" the relationship was a taxpayer-funded economic development mission. The governor quickly offered to repay taxpayers for that leg of the trip. It was too much. Friends began publicly suggesting he resign. The governor refused, proving he was better at political strategy than fidelity.

His inability to say the right thing was countered by Jenny Sanford's ability to consistently surprise the world with her calm, unreasonably fair response to the situation. She wasn't the "good wife," standing by her man regardless of the personal embarrassment. But she wasn't setting Sanford's clothes on fire on the front lawn either. She presented herself as a woman focused on her four sons, willing to try and fix her marriage, but stressing that it was up to her husband.

The governor's troubles continued to climb with media reports and a State Ethics Commission investigation regarding opulent trips and questionable spending that appeared to violate state law. In the end, all they found was a handful of business class trips overseas, some personal flights on state plans, and a few questionable campaign reimbursements. With little more than global embarrassment to hang around Sanford's neck, the state legislature has abandoned efforts to remove the governor from office.

IN 2010: A panel will consider the ethics charges against Sanford, any violations that make it out of that hearing will likely end in a fee. The legislature will likely vote on censuring the governor (a figurative slap on the wrist). After filing for divorce earlier this month, Jenny Sanford is expected to sign the final divorce papers at the end of February. Sanford has said his political career is over at the end of his term. You never say never in politics, but he's likely right — unless the Appalachian Trail is looking for a spokesperson.


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