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Wed December 22, 2010
The Top Ten Stories of 2010
By WRNI NEWSROOM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It's been a busy 2010 in Rhode Island and WRNI's counting down the top ten news stories.
Number 10: Corruption in North Providence
If the headline was about "corruption" the words "North Providence" probably preceded it in 2010.
In August three North Providence city councilman were indicted on charges of conspiracy, extortion and bribery. Prosecutors say they shook down a supermarket developer for $25,000 for a zoning permit. All three later stepped down and are awaiting trial.
One of them, John Zambarano, faces a separate charge of insurance fraud. What's more, the mayor Charles Lombardi is the subject of an ethics probe for allegedly awarding no bid contracts.
At issue are a number of contracts Lombardi's administration awarded in 2007 and 2008. The mayor has said they were emergency situations that did not require bids.
Number 9: 38 Studios
Governor Don Carcieri enthusiastically backed a 75-million dollar state loan guarantee for 38 Studios. Carcieri calls it a good bet for creating jobs and expanding the state's small, but growing technology sector.
Carcieri's eventual successor, Lincoln Chafee, saw the deal very differently. As a candidate for governor, Chafee tried to stop it, and he called the guarantee an overly risky use of taxpayers' money.
By the time he won the election, Chafee said it was too late to cancel the deal with 38 Studios. The video game company plans to set up shop in the former headquarters of Blue Cross-Blue Shield on Empire Street in downtown Providence.
Number 8: 1st Congressional District
Word leaked out in February that Kennedy, the last member of his family in national politics, wouldn't run again after eight terms. This surprising decision sparked a hard-fought race to fill a rare political opening.
A four-way Democratic field quickly took shape. Providence Mayor David Cicilline benefited from his name recognition, campaign discipline, and being able, in essence, to recyclemost of the money he had raised in preparation for a different run.
Republican John Loughlin steadily closed the gap againstCicilline in the November election. But in the end, the GOP tide that swept the nation missed Rhode Island, and Cicllinewon a six-point victory. He'll take office next month as part of the newly Republican-controlled House.
Number 7: Medical Errors
A piece of a drill bit, a pair of forceps, a roll of gauze, and x-ray sensitive string- all objects left inside patients at hospitals in the ocean state this year.
Rhode Island Hospital's mistakes came first when a drill bit broke during surgery and a piece of the metal remained in a patient's scalp. The Department of Health slapped the medical center with a three hundred thousand dollar fine for failing to follow proper protocol and invited an investigation into whether the hospital still qualified for Medicare payments.
On the day of the Health Department's reprimand, hospital officials revealed another medical error-forceps left inside a patient's abdomen had gone unnoticed for months.
Then came Women and Infants, where surgeons failed to remove a roll of gauze placed inside a mother's uterus. Doctors missed a piece of x-ray sensitive string in another instance. Women and Infants received no fine, but the hospital did submit a plan for preventing similar mistakes in the future.
Number 6: Central Falls High
Central Falls High School has long been a poster child for the failings of urban public schools. In 2009, just 7% of students were proficient on state math tests and fewer than half graduate on time.
So when the federal government announced a grant program aimed at making dramatic changes in troubled schools, state officials signed up Central Falls High.
But negotiations with the teachers union went sour over calls for a longer school day and tougher teacher evaluations. That prompted district officials to fire the entire faculty, igniting a national firestorm over whether teachers are to blame for failing schools.
The Central Falls teachers later agreed to the district's demands, and all but about a dozen returned to Central Falls High School. But the controversy did not end there. Teachers say discipline is now a problem at the school, and district officials say so many teachers are calling in sick every day, it has disrupted academics.
Number 5: Providence Elects Angel Taveras
After two terms at Providence City Hall, David Cicilline's decision to run for Congress set off a scramble to succeed him.
Angel Taveras jumped into the fray, along with Providence councilor John Lombardi, state Rep. Steven Costantino, and perennial candidate Christopher Young.
A lack of polling made it difficult to point to a frontrunner in the race. Taveras had run for office just once before - for Congress in 2000. But he emphasized his personal story in rising from Head Start to Harvard while assembling a citywide coalition.
In the end, Taveras cruised to victory, with 49 percent of the vote. He'll take office next month as Rhode Island's largest city faces significant problems, including debate about the seriousness of its budget woes.
Number 4: Central Falls Receiver
The General Assembly passed a law back in June, giving the state broad powers to intervene when a city or town faces bankruptcy. And Central Falls was the first city to test out the law, putting in place first a court-appointed receiver then put state-appointed Mark Pfeiffer, a retired judge, on the job.
Pfeiffer has rolled out a budget that calls for higher taxes and cuts in services. And he has now proposed a plan strongly suggesting a merger with neighboring Pawtucket. The year ends with Central Falls mayor Charles Moreau and city council members fighting the constitutionality of the receivership in court, it is now making its way to the state Supreme Court.
Receiver Mark Pfeiffer has said because lawmakers crafted the receiver law based on a state Supreme Court case, he believes it will stand up in court.
Number 3: The Economy
Rhode Island started coming out of its three year recession in 2010 but progress was so slow it was hard to notice. The unemployment rate fell from 12.9 percent to 11.6 percent in November. But 66,000 Rhode Islanders are still jobless.
All told, 41-thousand jobs have been lost since the recession began in 2007 and economists say it will take at least five years to restore them.
The unemployment crisis put unprecedented pressure on social service agencies. Food pantries and shelters are all reporting record demand. And Rhode Island leads New England in foreclosure rates.
Number 2: The Governor's Race
Rhode Island's four-person gubernatorial race resembled a primary. Moderate Ken Block, Democrat Frank Caprio, independent Lincoln Chafee, and Republican John Robitaille each insisted they could put the state on a better track to the future.
Chafee and Caprio led most of the way. Caprio emphasized helping small business, while Chafee touted a controversial plan to expand the state sales tax. But the campaign was breaking Chafee's way even before Caprio - in the catchphrase of the year - told President Obama that he could take his endorsement and "shove it."
In the end, Chafee beat Robitaille by two points, 36 percent to 34 percent, and Caprio finished third.
Chafee takes office next month as Rhode Island faces continued economic problems, including an almost $300 million deficit for the budget year starting July first.
Number 1: The Floods
The ground was already saturated when at the end of March nearly nine inches of rain fell on Rhode Island. Several rivers rose to historic highs, causing flood damage in all 39 cities and towns. It was called the worst flood in 200 years.
People who never had water in their basements did. And the unfortunates who lived near rivers had water up to their living rooms.
Fifty three retail establishments including the Warwick Mall were closed.
More than 300 roads and bridges were damaged.
The federal government declared the state a disaster area, freeing up more than $100 million in loans and grants. Now the hardest hit communities of West Warwick and Cranston are applying for federal funds to buy out properties that are perennially under water.
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