Each year at this time the newspaper industry has a little fun identifying the top 10 stories of the year. The Associated Press does it nationally; every daily newspaper does it locally.
City Paper isn’t daily, but why shouldn’t we have some fun? In fact, we’re going to do it twice. (You can read the City Paper‘s list here. Feel free to compare and contrast.) So, without further ado — drum roll, please — these are my picks for the 10 biggest stories in Charleston for 2007.
Sofa Super Store Fire: The death of nine Charleston firefighters in the Sofa Super Store fire last June was arguably the biggest story to come out of Charleston since Hurricane Hugo. Investigations and lawsuits are swirling, and like a bad dream that won’t go away, the ghastly, blackened shell of the furniture store still stands on Savannah Highway, reminding thousands of passers-by daily of that terrible night.
Al Parish loses his glitter: Al Parish was a local boy who earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of North Carolina, then came home to teach at Charleston Southern University. Regarded as a seer and oracle in all things economic, he was also an investment guru, promising annual returns of 30 percent or more. Hundreds were happy to turn their fortunes over to his care and keeping. Last spring, Parish’s fantasy evaporated, along with the fortunes of his investors. His financial empire turned out to be nothing more than a grand Ponzi scheme. In October he agreed to plead guilty to three charges of fraud, which may send him to jail for 15 years or more.
Wreck on the Mark Clark: Five people died in a fiery pileup on the Mark Clark Expressway last July, when a tractor-trailer slammed into vehicles and then burst into flames. Traffic backed up for miles on the Mark Clark and I-26. In November, the truck driver was cited for driving too fast for conditions.
Ravenel undone by drug charge: He was the state treasurer and the golden boy of the state GOP. Some even touted 44-year-old Thomas Ravenel as a challenger to Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2008 Republican primary. Then, in a stunning week last June, it all ended. Federal authorities charged Ravenel with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. Ravenel resigned from office and went into rehab. He took a plea and now awaits sentencing.
Alligator attacks man in Lake Moultrie: This is not a story that affects many lives, but people could not get enough of it. Last summer an alligator attacked a snorkeler in Lake Moultrie, tearing off his arm. People nearby took pictures which made their way on the internet, turning this local tragedy into an international story. The gator was later killed and its skull presented to the one-armed victim.
Crime, crime, crime: It started in the first week of 2007 with the killing of two men in the parking lot of a West Ashley McDonald’s, and it has not slowed. The urban slaughter — young black men murdering each other — has become a plague on Charleston County. North Charleston was named the seventh most dangerous city in the nation, based on FBI statistics.
Presidential primaries draw national spotlight: With S.C. holding early Republican and Democratic primaries, the state and the Lowcountry have seen an unbroken parade of presidential aspirants arriving to shake hands and kiss babies. The high point for Charleston occurred in July, when the seven Democratic candidates came to The Citadel for a nationally broadcast debate on CNN.
One more for Joe: To no one’s surprise, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was re-elected to his ninth term, taking 64 percent of the vote against three other candidates. Apparently 32 years wasn’t enough. And no one is betting that he will be satisfied with 36.
A new superintendent of education: The stormy three-year administration of Charleston County Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson ended when she took the top education job in Seattle. Expectations were probably too high for any mortal to fulfill. The fact that she was the first black to hold the position and had a confrontational manner did not serve her well in this conservative, racist environment. Let’s see if her replacement, Nancy McGinley, is any more popular. At least she’s white.
Isle of Palms washing away: Much of the Lowcountry looked on with amusement as the surf ate away the north end of Isle of Palms, including the gated community of Wild Dunes. A golf course and several condo buildings are seriously threatened. Residents have responded with thousands of sandbags along the beach, threatening both aesthetics and wildlife. Environmentalists are outraged. The Department of Health and Environmental Control has levied fines. Wild Dunes residents are threatening to sue the state, but the Atlantic Ocean keeps right on churning.