By Dee DeQuattro, WPRO News
It’s that time of year again. As 2012 draws to a close we in the news business like to take a step back and reflect on the top news stories of the year.
Here in the tiny Ocean State 2012 has been a year riveted by dirty politics, failed business ventures, high profile arrests, and a slew of local celebrities.
TOP STORY OF THE YEAR: Game Over, 38 Studios
Nothing defined 2012 more than the failure of former Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company. When Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, released its first game: Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning, Rhode Islanders had high stakes in its success.
In 2010 the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation backed a loan to 38 Studios to the tune of $75 million. In 2012 they would come to regret that decision when by May the company was struggling to pay the loan and by June the company laid off its entire staff and was headed to bankruptcy court.
The failure of the company caused a public battle between Governor Lincoln Chafee who pointed the finger at Curt Schilling for the failed company and Schilling who blamed Chafee for a lack of support.
In Politics, Cicilline overcomes Gemma and Doherty.
38 Studios was not the only epic fail Rhode Island saw this year.. How can anyone forget the epic failure of the Anthony Gemma campaign?
Gemma accused Congressman David Cicilline of committing voter fraud and held a press conference where he introduced so-called witnesses. One of the witnesses came forward and said that she lived in fear of Cicilline and his supporters and as a results sleeps in her attic with a baseball bat.
The Cicilline campaign declared the whole thing to be absolutely false and a reckless political stunt. In the end voters in the Democratic primary agreed and Cicilline won by a landslide.
Cicilline moved on to face off against Republican Brendan Doherty who was expected to be a powerful political foe.
The race was painted by Cicilline’s messaging that Doherty was a Romney Republican supporting a radical right wing agenda and Doherty’s claims that Cicilline was a defense attorney who represented some of the toughest criminals in Rhode Island’s past.
In the end despite Cicilline’s low approval ratings earlier in the year and public apology regarding“misspeaking” about Providence’s financial condition, the congressman won re-election with a strong showing. Doherty conceded but didn’t rule out a run for higher office in the future… some mention him as a possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate.
The rest of the election results were grim for Rhode Island Republicans. The tiny GOP lost seats in General Assembly and lost their bid for every federal office.
It was not a good year for Rhode Island’s sons of privilege either…
Governor Chafee’s son Caleb first made the news when he attempted to buy alcohol at a Jamestown liquor store. The trouble for young Caleb did not end there. As he was graduating from high school he hosted what seemed to be an under-age drinking party at the Chafee Exeter property according to police reports obtained exclusively by WPRO’s Matt Allen.
According to the report one girl was so drunk that she had to be transported to the hospital. Caleb Chafee allegedly asked the girl and her friends to leave his family’s property before calling for help.
When police became aware of the situation, Caleb and his lawyer urged his friends to “plead the fifth.”
Also present at the party was Alexander Whitehouse, classmate of Caleb and son of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Senator Whitehouse said his son left before the drinking began but a few months later Alexander Whitehouse was in trouble of his own.
Alexander was charged with driving under the influence when he was question by Middletown Police outside a local convenience store. Alexander admitted to drinking and was arrested. He later pleaded no contest to charges in court.
While Chafee and Whitehouse cleaned up the messes their young sons created, the state had a mess of its own to clean up after Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc on our shores.
As Sandy headed up the coast and was scheduled to make landfall in New York and New Jersey, Rhode Island braced itself for the worst.
It seemed Sandy was the perfect storm hitting the coast because there was a full moon high-tide expected to cause a record coastal surge. Providence fared well as the hurricane barriers held back water but Westerly, Block Island, and South Country suffered millions of dollars of damage along the coast with several beach homes destroyed and the iconic “Coast Guard House” heavily damaged.
While some politicians and coastal communities took a beating during 2012, the year was a great year for talk radio.
The battle of church and state took center stage in talk radio world. First the Cranston Prayer Banner saga continued and became one of the year’s hottest talk topics. The year kicked off with a Federal Court ruling that a prayer banner that hung in the Cranston West auditorium be removed.
The teenage atheist who challenged the banner declared a secular victory but the banner supporters were angry and packed the school committee meetings calling for an appeal.
In the end the school committee, strapped for cash, chose not to appeal and the 50-year-old banner was removed.
The next religious debate that erupted on talk radio was a few months later in Woonsocket. A Wisconsin based atheist group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, challenged a Latin cross on a war memorial in the parking lot of a Woonsocket fire station. Citizens rallied behind the memorial known as the Place Jolicoeur memorial. Mayor Leo Fontaine of Woonsocket promised to protect the memorial in court if the battle went so far.
The memorial got a face lift as a result of the attention but the monuments legal status remains in limbo.
And then of course it wouldn’t be Rhode Island without a Christmas Controversy.
The debate over the Christmas Tree continued this year as Chafee chose to once again refer to the spruce in the State House as a “Holiday Tree.” This year the controversy once again made the “Daily Show with John Stewart” and Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly,” but this year there was a twist.
In order to avoid the Christmas tree protest of 2011 Chafee held a daytime tree lighting where he gave the public just a half hours’ notice.
Another cause of controversy that gave the WPRO talkers some fodder was when part of a mural of the life of a man painted on the walls of Pilgrim High School by a student was ordered removed. The mural ended with the man getting married and having a family of his own and school officials said that ending may be offensive to people with less traditional families.
The controversy ended when the school superintendent stepped in and allowed the student to finish the mural in the way she saw fit. The student kept the ending the same.
Back in Cranston another question of values was raised. Some parents were outraged when they discovered that the father-daughter dance and mother-son baseball game had been eliminated from the event calendar because they are not gender neutral events. A parent complained and the ACLU got involved and rather than go to court or fight it the Superintendent tried to quietly eliminate the event.
It came to light that gender specific events in school may actually violate state law. The issue will now be taken up in the General Assembly next session.
Police Officers were in the news often in 2012… and some of them were on trial…
The trial of Edward Krawetz , “the kicking cop” took place this year. Krawetz was suspended from the Lincoln Police force after being accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head outside Twin River. Krawetz claimed it was self-defense since she had tried to kick him but in the end the judge found him guilty of battery. He was received a 10 year suspended sentence.
North Providence Police made the news too as their Police Chief stood trial for stealing over $700 from a striper after a low speed chase during Tropical Storm Irene. John Whiting, now the former police chief, was convicted of stealing the cash from former striper Justina Cardoso.
North Providence Police made the news again at the tail end of the year after a video of cops ordering a group of teenage pranksters to do push-ups by the side of the road after they vandalized a mailbox was released. The police officers were rebuked after the mayor said their actions were inappropriate.
In a more tragic police story Providence lost one of its finest when Sergeant Max Dorley was killed in the line of duty after his cruiser crashed when he was responding to assist a fellow officer.
Police also had a tough year with a couple of high profile arrests.
In January, South Kingstown police busted State Representative Bob Watson for possession of marijuana. Watson was also found drinking in his vehicle but he was not charged with DUI since he was not discovered to be driving the vehicle at the time.
A few months later in March Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio was pulled over in Barrington and charged with a DUI after he failed the field sobriety test. During the stop Senator Frank Ciccone, who was following Ruggerio in his own vehicle, gave officers a hard time threatening legislative action and pulling the “do you know who we are,” card.
Meanwhile other politicians behaved badly and got busted for it this year as well.
Representative John McCauley was indicted on conspiracy and tax fraud. He was accused of cheating the government out of over half a million dollars in taxes. He pleaded guilty to charges.
Central Falls Mayor Chuck Moreau resigned in disgrace this year when he faced an indictment on federal corruption charges. Moreau pleaded guilty to a charge of receiving gifts in exchange for lucrative city contracts. Meanwhile, Central Falls just emerged from bankruptcy. In a special December election, voters elected 27-year-old councilman James Diossa to take over for Moreau.
Dan Doyle of the URI International Institute for Sport also had a bad year when it came to light that he had possibly misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in state legislative grants. He was supposed to set up a headquarters for the Institute at URI but instead he got a home on a luxury vacation island in North Carolina and Rhode Islanders got an empty building at URI.
On the brighter side of things, Rhode Island made national headlines with a slew of local celebrities.
Cranston Rhode Island was put on the map (and not for a controversy) when 20-year-old Olivia Culpo was the first Rhode Islander to win Miss USA .Culpo went on to win Miss Universe.
Rhode Islander Erica Van Pelt made it into the top ten of American Idol and North Kingstown’s Elizabeth Beisel brought home a silver medal from the London Olympic games.
Plus, Rhode Island had not one, but TWO Powerball jackpot winners.
The state also said goodbye to some great Rhode Islanders. Former Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, the man responsible for leading Rhode Island through the blizzard of 1978 passed away.
The WPRO family also had a tragic loss when Buddy Cianci’s daughter, Nicole, passed away earlier this year.
2012 has been quite the year for Rhode Island and there is no telling what 2013 will bring but as always we will be here to cover the news and talk to you about the latest news in the Ocean State.
From the WPRO team, have a very Happy New Year!