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A July five-alarm fire at the Hubig's Pies bakery in the Marigny destroyed the facility, sending New Orleanians running to stores to buy the last of the company's famous fried pies (some even putting the final treats on eBay for ridiculous sums). The fire was a huge story among tradition-loving New Orleanians, but it was also significant enough to make The New York Times and CNN. The Bowman and Ramsey families, who own the bakery, swore they'd reopen as soon as possible, and urged the public to buy Hubig's merchandise to speed the process.
Hubig's Pie costumes bearing the image of mascot Savory Simon were a popular sight at Halloween, and restaurateur Chris DeBarr invented his own take on a Hubig's at his restaurant Serendipity. Hubig's even had a booth at the Po-Boy Festival in November. But the public accepted no substitutes, and 2012 ended with the city still Hubig-less. Maybe in 2013 ...
The Community Organizer
An activist who was seen as instrumental in bringing Broadmoor back after Hurricane Katrina overcame late ethics payments and her husband's pot nab to become the District B councilwoman in December. Cantrell, who was backed by Council President Stacy Head, defeated Juvenile Justice Project director Dana Kaplan, who had drawn support from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and was seen as the establishment candidate in the race.
In his June State of the Criminal Justice System address, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro implored Mayor Mitch Landrieu to increase the funding for his overwhelmed office (the D.A. has made the case, quite plausibly, that his is the most underfunded in the state). But when the budget was released in October, his office was cut nearly 5 percent. Nevertheless, Cannizzaro proclaimed himself OK with the budget slice. The end of the year saw Cannizzaro — along with local, state and federal agencies — announce a major crackdown on gang violence in Orleans Parish.
The Trash Man
The co-owner of the River Birch landfill spent the year fighting off lawsuits and a federal investigation of his business by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office. But he drew blood himself, suing top Letten assistants Sal Perricone and Jan Mann over pseudonymous comments they'd made on NOLA.com. The resulting scandal rocked Letten's office and eventually triggered his retirement, which might have happened anyway after President Obama's re-election in November. In an only-in-Louisiana twist, Heebe once was one of the top choices to head the U.S. Attorney's office — back in 2001, when Letten was tapped instead to lead it after Heebe's former wife and girlfriend accused him of domestic violence.
"No White Flags" was the ongoing cry of the former New Orleans Saints player, who was diagnosed with ALS last year. Whether it was his Gleason Gras event raising money for ALS charities, his travels through the Northwest, or his determination to take place in the Jazz Half Marathon, Gleason continued to inspire and put a human face on the disease.
In July, the U.S. Justice Department and the city finally came to terms on the long-awaited New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree, an oversight mechanism designed to overhaul the long-tarnished department (to the tune of $11 million a year). Officers' associations and citizens' groups called for fairness hearings based on some of the decree's recommendations. Meanwhile, in non-news, the high murder rate in New Orleans remained steady this year, even as homicides declined nationally.
The Oil Giant
The company responsible for the 2010 disaster that claimed 11 lives and harmed or crippled wildlife, communities and the environment was prepared for a big summer makeover. It spent millions as one of the sponsors of the 2012 London Olympics, much of it on a PR campaign, "Fueling the Future." It flew Gulf Coast chefs and bands to London to show the company's commitment to "working towards a cleaner planet." (Its billboards and ads were vandalized, and trashed by critics in the press.) A minor but significant blow came from the feds in late November: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited the oil giant from doing any new business in the U.S., at least temporarily. The EPA banned BP from new oil contracts for its "lack of integrity" following the disaster — meanwhile, the company reached a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for criminal charges. The faces of the crimes: rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, who pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges, and David Rainey, former BP vice president of exploration for the Gulf, who was charged with concealing information from Congress about the size of the disaster. They'll head to court in February.
The Council President
In April, Mayor Mitch Landrieu endorsed Head's opponent, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, for the at-large City Council seat, putting the long-simmering Landrieu/Head feud out in the open. Four months later, as Hurricane Isaac approached, Landrieu shut her out of an emergency planning meeting at City Hall; Head left town for vacation in the hurricane's aftermath, but suffered little political damage for the decision. In December, the election of Head-backed candidate LaToya Cantrell to the City Council further solidified Head's power within City Hall.
What do you get for a man that owns an NFL team and a TV station? A basketball team, of course; Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA for a reported $338 million. In November, Benson and wife Gayle donated $10 million to Brother Martin High School. Benson had made it clear he wanted to change the name of the Hornets to something more New Orleanian, and in December the proposed new name was leaked to the media: the Pelicans.
During the 2011 municipal budget talks, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman requested an increase in per diem funding for Orleans Parish Prison — paid from city coffers per prisoner per day. In 2012, he wanted to end the per diem system, which District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry once called a "perverse incentive" to keep the jail's inmate count high. Formerly reluctant to cede authority to federal control, Gusman has recently agreed to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. But he has claimed he needs tens of millions of dollars from the city to fund it. The city countered that Gusman has provided little proof that the additional money is necessary. In 2013, the city will find out who's right, or at least who U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk believes is right.
In May, former U.S. Rep. William Jennings Jefferson finally reported to a low-security federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, to begin serving a 13-year sentence on charges of bribery and public corruption. It was a spectacular fall for a man who escaped a background of poverty in East Carroll Parish to attend Harvard Law School and become the state's first black congressional representative in more than 100 years. Jefferson's imprisonment also signaled the final collapse of the Jefferson political dynasty. When his sentence ends, the man known as "Dollar Bill" will be 78 years old.
New Orleans reacted angrily and forcefully when word leaked in May that The Times-Picayune would be cutting back to three-day-a-week print publication in the fall. The rollout was a public relations debacle for executives at the paper and its parent company, Advance Publications, who preferred to concentrate on a promised digital future rather than the nearly 200 people being laid off. (Dozens of new employees were hired for the new "NOLA Media Group," and even some of those whe were fired were quietly un-fired weeks and months later.) Despite protests and letter-writing campaigns, the T-P's fate was sealed and New Orleans became the largest American city without a daily newspaper. That dubious status seems likely to change in 2013, as Advance's Cleveland newspaper, The Plain Dealer, is undergoing cutbacks. Its publisher assured readers, "We do not have a specific plan, timeline or structure for Cleveland," but no one doubts the Advance template will be applied there as well.
It was a mixed midterm year for the energetic mayor. He backed a couple of City Council candidates who lost (Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Dana Kaplan) and threw his support behind proposed legislation to create a taxing "hospitality zone" that got kayoed by residents in the tourism district. On other fronts, he got good notices for his response to Hurricane Isaac and his handling of an unprecedented string of major tourism events that kept the city hopping in 2012, all the while embarking on a series of major cleanup and public works projects leading up to the 2013 Super Bowl.
The Fallen Fed
When Letten stepped down in December, he had served nearly 11 years as head of the U.S. Attorney's office in New Orleans. He oversaw a string of successful political prosecutions that made him one of the city's most popular public servants. Though Letten gave no reason for the resignation, it came shortly after two of his top lieutenants — Sal Perricone and Jan Mann — were exposed for popping off anonymously in the comments section of NOLA.com. They left as well, as did Mann's husband, Jim Mann. As Dana Boente took over as interim prosecutor, there was buzz that more heads may roll in the office ... and that U.S. Attorneys may soon be turning their attention to some familiar names among the New Orleans media in regard to the Danziger case and others.
New Orleans Saints
For the Black and Gold, it was a year worthy of a sports soap opera — or at least a telenovela. The bounty revelation. The investigation. The suspensions. The commissioner. The
franchise tag. Coach Sean Payton's contract voided by the NFL. Then, of course, the season itself. Four straight losses to start. Then a rally. Then another collapse — worst of all, against rivals the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons. And, of course: what happened to Drew Brees? We lost our infallible Breesus for a while, only to get him back when the season was all but over. It all ended on a soap opera-worthy cliffhanger: Will Sean Payton be back to coach the Dynasty next year — or will he go to Dallas? Tune in next year, sports fans.