They say that journalism is the first draft of history, but sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. This year, at least one news story — the No. 1 story on our list — felt like history in the making every step of the way. Here are the 11 biggest news items from the year that was:
11. Ice falls from the Ravenel Bridge (and everything shuts down)
Charlestonians are rookies at driving in winter conditions. But add in falling death-cicles on one of the busiest bridges in town? Forget about it. This January, after falling ice smashed a car windshield, officials shut down the major artery between Mt. Pleasant and Charleston for 43 hours, bringing traffic to a standstill all over town. And then they shut it down again the next day. The blustery weather that caused the ice to form is a rarity in the balmy Lowcountry, and it was all anyone could talk about for a week.
10. Shem Creek saviors unite
Perhaps the most ubiquitous locally made bumper sticker of 2014 was one that read, “SAVE SHEM CREEK.” The issue at hand was a patch of proposed development along once-idyllic Shem Creek, a popular spot for shrimp boats and seafood joints. Advocates say the town should do a better job of keeping development in line with the creek’s small-town aesthetic, leading to some downright contentious Town Council meetings and a broader ongoing dialogue about what the future holds for the fast-growing ‘burb.
9. Shootings rock North Charleston
North Charleston is still getting over the black eye it received in 2007 when CQ Press ranked it the 7th-most-violent city in America based on per-capita crime statistics. Statistically speaking, things have gotten better, but some weeks are worse than others. The new year began on a dark note as two men took turns retaliating for a fight that started at a nightclub, shooting at each other’s family homes and leaving two women dead and a third injured. This fall saw a rash of shootings as well, including four over the course of one 24-hour period.
8. Glenn McConnell takes the wheel at College (er, University) of Charleston
In a move that sparked protests from students and faculty, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees voted to hire former S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the school’s president in March. Early on, the controversy centered on McConnell’s history of dressing up in Confederate garb and defending the Confederate battle flag’s place on Statehouse grounds. But looking forward, the really interesting thing to watch will be how McConnell handles the push by some state lawmakers to reinvent liberal-arts-heavy CofC as a research powerhouse.
7. New development gets approved for the Magnolia and Horizon districts
This news item didn’t generate a lot of buzz, but at a June 17 meeting, Charleston City Council extended the deadlines for two very important Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. They’re important because they will help fund infrastructure improvements at planned developments in the Horizon District (between MUSC and the RiverDogs stadium) and a section of the Neck previously known as Magnolia (near the Bridge to Nowhere). The Horizon District is envisioned as a $1 billion mixed-use hub for residential units and biotech companies. The details on Magnolia are a little hazier, but MeadWestvaco has expressed an interest in redeveloping the land, which was supposed to be developed for residential and commercial use before the Great Recession hit.
6. Midterm elections change (almost) nothing
In one of the more depressing displays of democracy this year, a scant 43.6 percent of registered voters statewide went to the polls and basically voted to change nothing. Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson won easily. Even U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, for all his bad press, managed to take home 93 percent of the vote after Democrats failed to put up any opposition. A whopping 75 percent of state House races featured only one major-party candidate, and locally, four out of five Charleston County Council incumbents ran unopposed. In fact, the only real change we can report was that three new members joined the Charleston County school board: Eric L. Mack, Chris Staubes, and Kate Darby.
5. Charleston City Council reaches a compromise on the late-night bar ban
This news story started off quietly. In May, Council passed a first reading of an ordinance that would create a new Entertainment District Overlay Zone on Upper King and the Market in which any new businesses would be forced to close at midnight. Once word got out, it created an uproar among restaurateurs and the food and beverage community, who lobbied hard and eventually got a compromise: In lieu of the onerous Overlay Zone, the city enacted a one-year moratorium on new late-night bars in the bar districts.
4. Denzel Curnell dies in front of a police officer
On June 20, an off-duty police officer approached Denzel Curnell, a 19-year-old African-American man who was wearing a hoodie and walking outside of a building at the Bridgeview Village apartment complex. “Hey man, can I holla at you?” said the officer, who is also black. This kind of proactive approach is a hallmark of community policing, a technique that has gotten mixed reviews nationwide. In Charleston, the outcome of the encounter was tragic. Noting what he called a “distant look” on Curnell’s face, the officer drew his pistol and eventually tackled Curnell. In the scuffle that ensued, a shot was fired that ended Curnell’s life. An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division determined that the death was a suicide, but the incident sparked accusations from the local NAACP of uneven enforcement and started a broader conversation about racial profiling and law enforcement practices in Charleston.
3. Deputy dies in the line of duty
On the night of Sept. 8, one Charleston County Sheriff’s Office deputy died and another was injured while responding to a disturbance at the Gardens at Ashley River, a West Ashley apartment complex. After deputies attempted to make contact with resident Michael D. Oswald in his apartment, shots rang out from inside the apartment. According to Sheriff Al Cannon, Oswald fired an AK-47-like weapon through his front door, piercing the body armor of Deputy Joseph J. Matuskovic and hitting Deputy Michael S. Ackerman in the leg. Matuskovic died of his injuries at the hospital. Oswald, who had a history of violent fights and complaints about law enforcement, was found dead in his apartment. The same night, a Charleston County Technology Services and Radio Operations employee named Larry Britton died of natural causes while working.
2. Nancy McGinley gets ousted by the school board
Hired in 2007, Nancy McGinley was the longest-serving superintendent in the history of the Charleston County School District when the school board voted in late October to accept her resignation. The inciting incident — or the last straw, depending who you ask — was McGinley’s decision to remove a popular football coach at Academic Magnet High School following complaints about perceived racism in the team’s postgame rituals. McGinley quickly reinstated the coach after catching an earful from AMHS parents, but the school board was not so quick to forgive. According to McGinley’s lawyer, the board gave her an ultimatum: Resign or be fired. Now a coalition of community leaders and parents led by Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. is pushing the board to re-hire McGinley, but the board has announced that it plans to search for a replacement.
1. Gay marriage comes to South Carolina (via Charleston)
On Oct. 8, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threw out Virginia’s ban on gay marriage, Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon made a bold move: He announced that, effective immediately, his court would accept marriage applications from same-sex couples. Charleston County Council member Colleen Condon (who is Judge Condon’s third cousin) and her partner Nichols Bleckley were first in line, and their application sparked a legal battle with Attorney General Alan Wilson that would ultimately result in the repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. In the midst of the proceedings, Wilson easily won re-election against a Democratic challenger.
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