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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004 07:21 am

This year

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“Being in all the meetings, I think people began to understand that the position of chief of staff had a lot of power, and I had knowledge of everything in city government. I think that, when people began to fully understand that role, it caused some

Whew, what a year.

This year, Illinois sent a rock star named Barack to the U.S. Senate.

The nation gave steady-as-a-rock (and twice-as-smart) George W. another four years in the White House.

And a leading British tabloid wondered on its front page: How could 59 million Americans "be so dumb"?

We're still not sure. Perhaps we were too distracted to find out.

After all, there were so many things to monitor in 2004:

Was Britney Spears pregnant?

Which Olsen twin turned herself into a matchstick?

Exactly how did Kobe beat the rap?

How is it possible, in America, for Scott Peterson to be good-looking and a killer?

This year, Janet Jackson's right breast gained its freedom (momentarily and notoriously); Martha Stewart went to prison.

This year, President Ronald Reagan died. President Yassir Arafat, too. If there is a God, surely he has Yassir and the Gipper cleaning out his stable -- for all eternity.

In Iraq, "Mission Accomplished" morphed into "Mission Impossible."

Shadowy murderers beheaded their captives and posted their savage handiwork on the Internet. An Army private from West Virginia became the poster girl for the new Ugly American.

This year, in "liberated" Iraq, more than 800 U.S. soldiers died. More than 7,500 were wounded. The secretary of defense used a machine to sign letters of condolence.

This year, the Pentagon acknowledged that more than 5,500 servicemen and women have deserted since the invasion, and a study in a prestigious medical journal estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had perished during the same period. Millions of Americans put yellow magnet ribbons on their cars.

Mercifully, in Springfield, Ill., the world still spun in greased grooves, 'round and 'round. What dirty little secrets we had, we shared in confidence. We are, as etiquette diva Marjabelle Young Stewart reported this year, a polite city -- the second-most so in the nation. We slept snugly at night, secure in the knowledge that guards were keeping tourists from taking pictures of our smoke-belching power plant.

This year, the governor visited the capital city to add to his growing collection of detractors. Rod Blagojevich continued his battles with truckers and drug makers and locked horns with the mayor of Chicago, the "Soviet-style" bureaucrats at the Illinois State Board of Education, the speaker of the house, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and video gamers everywhere. And just in time for the holidays, he laid off more people who actually do important things for the people of Illinois.

His predecessor, once touted as Nobel Prize material because of his anti-death penalty stance, saw his fortunes sink lower when a top aide agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Former Gov. George Ryan is charged with racketeering, fraud, and conspiracy.

This year, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, dedicated at great expense three years ago, finally opened. (The museum portion makes its debut in April -- we hope.) Our senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin -- a champion of the presidential library -- suggested to the editorial board of the State Journal-Register that Springfield was insufficiently prepared for an onslaught of Lincoln aficionados. Some on the City Council took exception: "Terribly offended" is how Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager reacted to Durbin's comment.

There's always somebody on this council who's offended. In local politics, Republicans and Democrats tugged at each other -- and most people in this most political of cities seemed bored silly.

Some lingering stories appeared near a merciful end -- ex-cop Renatta Frazier took a hefty settlement from the city, packed up her family, and headed to Atlanta. She's finishing a book. We're waiting for the movie adaptation.

Her former colleagues, the Black Guardians, are still in court, unlikely to fare so well. Their lawsuit, alleging discrimination, lingers -- but that's no surprise here.

In Springfield, things linger.

This year, there was more talk about a civilian police-reviewboard, but there is no board.

There was more talk about fixing the city's garbage-collection system but no fix.

There was sound and fury about eliminating the city health department -- that idea was shelved until spring.

There was talk about troublesome bars that close at 3 a.m., but too many people still drink too much -- and always will.

Last year, when we reviewed the year that was, we boldly predicted that 2003 would be remembered for bovine scandals -- Mongo, the wrongly maligned and dethroned Illinois State Fair steer; and a nameless Holstein in Washington State, the nation's first confirmed case of mad-cow disease.

Of course, we were wrong. Ridiculously wrong.

And for that, as always, we blame the editor.

This year, no bold or silly predictions.

Instead, let's revisit the year that was, in the words of the people who made news in our pages.

"Death to Moby Dick! And if perchance we fail in this quest, at least let us fish the hot-water ditch!" -- Dr. Bob Vautrain, chief medical director, Memorial Health Systems. Vautrain was a spokesman for fellow fishermen opposed to closing the so-called "hot ditch" on Lake Springfield as a security measure. His statements to City Council included clever variations on famous fish (and whale)-themed literature. ("Fish stories," Jan. 8)

"Being in all the meetings, I think people began to understand that the position of chief of staff had a lot of power, and I had knowledge of everything in city government. I think that, when people began to fully understand that role, it caused some problems."—Letitia Dewith-Anderson, on what caused Mayor Tim Davlin to change her title from chief of staff to executive assistant. She subsequently resigned, saying her new job was meaningless. ("Leaving Oz," Jan. 15)

"We can cut fat only so far before it goes to muscle and bone." -- Mayor Tim Davlin, introducing his "catastrophic" city budget proposal, that suggested laying off cops and firefighters yet included a $15,000 raise for spokesperson Ernie Slottag plus a $13,000 raise for Oak Ridge Cemetery Director Luann Johnson, the mayor's first cousin. ("What catastrophe?" Jan. 29)

"When I was performing, it wouldn't be unusual to see me take out a breast and pat my face with it or throw it at somebody in the audience." -- Krystal Knight, mentor to Springfield drag queen Mahogany Knight. Mahogany, who had been performing for years, caught our eye when she won a big-city contest. ("Queen of hearts," Feb. 12)

"You are not to take this for granted. We are neither complacent nor apathetic. We do not forget. We can organize in great numbers when called upon to do so." -- Gail Simpson, president of local Delta Sigma Theta chapter. At City Council to receive a proclamation from Mayor Tim Davlin, Simpson called out the mayor on a number of unresolved racial-discrimination matters. ("Seeing red," March 4)

"I knew Renatta had a damn good case, and I said, 'Hey, we need to sever her out and let the other guys fight their way to the top.' And as usual, I was right." -- Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, on the city's agreement to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by Renatta Frazier. McNeil supported the city administration's decision to reach a separate agreement with Frazier. ("Judgment day," April 1)

"I'm kind of a cheap person and hate to see things of value go to waste, be it aluminum cans or historic buildings." -- Longtime preservationist Jerry Jacobson on his decision to pump thousands of dollars into saving the 1857 Judge Taylor Home on the city's southeast side. ("To the rescue," April 8)

"I wanted to make a point to go up to her and personally apologize for my part. It was an honest mistake on my part." -- Sgt. Kevin Keen, on making amends to ex-cop Renatta Frazier. On the basis of erroneous information from a still unnamed source and incomplete information provided by Keen, the State Journal-Register published stories claiming that Frazier had failed to prevent the rape of a fellow officer's daughter. ("Redemption story," April 22)

"I'm offended by that question, but the answer is no. You know, you've gone overboard, Alderman, you've gone overboard." -- Mayor Tim Davlin to Ward 5 Ald. Joe Bartolomucci, who asked whether the mayor or his family had any financial interest in the bank that lent the city money to settle the Renatta Frazier lawsuit. ("Bull's-eye," April 29)

"If a skinny 8-year-old kid can knock a tombstone on himself, how safe can it be?" -- State worker Robert Pinkston on the boy whose leg was broken at Oak Ridge Cemetery months after the Springfield City Council was warned about dangerous conditions there. ("Rest in pieces," May 6)

"This whole thing has been one major pain in the ass." -- Radio personality Jim McGill (a.k.a. "Jim the Photographer") on being seriously injured when a bottle rocket was launched into his rectum during a station stunt. ("Moon shot," May 13)

"We do more apologizing than anything. I apologize to people every day of the week because we haven't done anything about the particular drug house in their neighborhood." -- Sgt. Ron Vose, head of Springfield Police Department's narcotics unit, days after his four-officer squad concluded a three-month sting operation by making 44 drug-related arrests. ("Small victories," May 20)

"How many people didn't die that night?" -- Social worker Robert Brooks on the homeless man found frozen to death in 2003 after leaving the Springfield Salvation Army shelter. ("Limited safety net," May 13)

"We render the brain dead instantly almost 100 percent of the time." -- James Tucker, manager of the Cavel International horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb. Tucker defended his company's reputation against such animal-rights activists as screen siren Bo Derek, who showed up in Springfield to support legislation to close the plant. The bill failed, and the plant reopened in June. ("Bo knows," May 20)

"We wake up one morning and see a bulldozer or a backhoe out there." -- North End community activist Bob Lanier on the rapid development of Springfield's designated medical district. ("Land grab," May 27)

"I have not been asked to make any promises. People who know me know that they would be escorted out the door. This is Washington County, not Madison County." -- Judge Lloyd Karmeier, who ended Democratic control of the southern-district seat on the state Supreme Court. The Nashville, Ill., Republican won with the financial and political backing of pro-tort-reform business groups in a race that set a new standard for spending -- and nastiness. ("Supreme fight," May 27)

"Ego is involved, more so than with any governor I've ever seen." --- Political analyst Charles Wheeler III on Rod Blagojevich, whose inability to negotiate with legislative leaders resulted in the longest state-budget impasse in a decade. ("Little big man," June 17)

"This isn't China, where we all have to praise Mao." -- Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, who left a critical note in a commemorative book for Ronald Reagan at the Capitol. Garcia wrote that the late president's policies in the early 1980s contributed to the suffering of people with AIDS. Because of the note, Garcia said, he was rebuked by WICS-TV reporter Julie Staley, who called him a "loser, a pathetic loser." (Quick Takes, June 17)

"I believe serious art and literature critics will judge John Yancey's mural . . . to be a masterpiece, one of the most important and creative murals ever created in our country." -- Michael Townsend, who helped create the mural, "Corporate State: 1984," on an exterior wall of a city-owned community center on East Jefferson. The UIS professor was outraged when he discovered that the city had had the mural painted over. ("Whitewash," June 17)

"Every married couple has a debate over what's fun for them." —U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan. The Republican attempted to explain to Illinois Times why his ex-wife's allegations Ñ that he tried to coerce her to engage in public sex acts Ñ shouldn't matter to voters. ("Ryan's hope," June 24)

"The way it was years and years ago, if you wanted to be on the job, if your dad was on the job and he knew someone, he would give them money or whatever and you get the job." -- Capt. Mark Dyment, who headed the Springfield Fire Department's efforts to recruit minority firefighters. Three months later, Dyment quit the recruiting job, apparently over a disagreement about how applicants' test scores should be weighed in hiring decisions. ("Fired up," July 1)

"You can't spoil a political system that the two established parties have spoiled to the core." -- Ralph Nader, defending his decision to run for president despite complaints that his candidacy tilted the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush. ("The spoilers," July 8)

"I thought tonight I'd be in my husband's arms and my mother's Jacuzzi." -- Julie Rea-Harper, whose conviction for murdering her son, Joel, was overturned but who was immediately rearrested on the same charge as she left prison. Her second murder trial is pending. ("Never say die," July 15)

"I find it a little surprising that there's not any night service at all in Springfield." -- Ty Livingston, planning director for the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, on Springfield's long-held practice of ending bus service at 6 p.m. ("Transit fix," July 22)

"I had a lot of bumps in the beginning. And in the middle. And toward the end, also." —WICS-TV (Channel 20) anchor and reporter Glenn McEntyre. Glenn McEntyre left Springfield for greener pastures in July. ("Goodbye, Glenn," July 22)

"The next time some kid gets hurt driving home from a cornfield kegger, or gets caught sneaking into a 21-and-over club, it will weigh heavily on the conscience of the people who closed the teen center." -- Doug Dennis on the Sangamon County Board's decision to shutter Club 10, an all-ages venue that operated out of a building he owns on North Bradfordton Road. ("Last dance," Aug. 12)

"I'm certain Ambassador Keyes is now busily printing up some 'Crazy Times Demand a Crazy Senator' yard signs." -- Republican consultant Mike Murphy on Republican Senate nominee Alan Keyes' politics. Keyes was tapped as the Republican nominee after Jack Ryan withdrew. ("Keyes to victory?" Aug. 12)

"People have been very sympathetic to me. Many have expressed their sympathies." -- State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka on her tenure as Illinois Republican Party chairwoman. During her watch, Gov. George Ryan was indicted and U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan quit after his divorce records were unsealed. ("Judging Judy," Aug. 26)

"I would hope she has a hard enough time sleeping at night as is." -- Candace Gingrich, gay-rights activist and brother of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, criticizing the vice president's lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney, for supporting the Bush administration. ("Equality's the reason," Sept. 9)

"The city of Springfield seems to be sued a lot more regularly than other cities." -- Springfield corporation counsel Jenifer Johnson, during City Council discussion about why she was refusing to release demographic information about city employees -- the kind of information other Illinois cities readily provide. "Yeah. That's because we're a bunch of bozos most of the time." -- Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, in response. ("A bunch of bozos," Sept. 9)

"Our group needs Thanksgiving more this year than ever before. We're going to need to get together and talk about Tom and do our own grieving." -- John Kelso, a friend of local Route 66 historian Tom Teague, who died suddenly on Sept. 11. ("The road home," Sept. 16)

"I tell dead-baby jokes. I spit in the crowd. I make fun of NASCAR." -- Springfield wrestler Anthony Kendall describes his bad-guy persona. ("Fancy moves," Sept. 30)

"We can't have people walking around our streets urinating, vomiting, ripping up our downtown. This is just an impossible situation." -- Susan Mogerman, chief operating officer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, asking City Council to ban 3 a.m. liquor licenses. ("Bar hopping blues," Sept. 30)

"The Sangamon River is looked at as the sewer for Springfield, but people would be amazed at its beauty, its character." -- Local landscape architect Kent Massie on the natural environment of central Illinois. The Friends of Sangamon Valley this year completed a comprehensive inventory of natural areas, an important step toward environmentally sensitive planning. ("Taking stock," Oct. 7)

"You live in a very, very dangerous area, and most people don't even understand that." -- Peace activist and author Helen Caldicott on the risks posed by Illinois' 11 nuclear-power plants. ("Be afraid . . . very afraid," Oct. 14)

"Will it mean more homeless people in Springfield? I hope not, but I fear the worst." -- Retiring Springfield Housing Authority executive director Willis Logan on the impact of federal cuts to the local Section 8 housing-voucher program. ("The unkindest cuts," Oct. 21)

"Jeremy's big thing is, he just wants to come home. That's all he wants to do, is come home." -- Jessica Stock, talking about her 20-year-old husband, Spc. Jeremy Stock, who is serving in Iraq. ("Beloved soldier," Oct. 21)

"I miss her and it hurts so bad. And it sucks that it hurts this bad for me, because she was one of my best friends." —From an e-mail sent by 20-year-old Spc. Jennifer Buffington to her mother, Ellie Lee. Buffington grieved the death of Jessica Cawvey of the Illinois National Guard, killed Oct. 6 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. ("Beloved soldier," Oct. 21)

"I think I bought three pregnancy tests, because I just couldn't believe it." -- Marla Tebbenkamp, victim of Springfield's first shooting of 2004. Treatment for the gunshot wound included antibiotics, which counteracted her birth control pills, and led to the birth of her first child. ("Son of a gun," Oct. 28)

"It's still a pretty dangerous scene." -- Federal investigator Lisa Long on cleanup efforts at the Formosa Plastics plant in Illiopolis, seven months after an explosion killed five workers. ("A search for answers," Nov. 4)

"Progressives and Democrats tend to get steamrolled by the other side, then whine about it afterward, making them look both weak and petty." -- Barack Obama on the challenges facing liberals days before his landslide election to the U.S. Senate. ("Rising son," Nov. 4)

"I sort of feel like an old man sitting in a park talking to himself." -- Rudy Davenport, 76, who recently stepped down as head of the Springfield branch of the NAACP. ("Radical Rudy," Nov. 18)

"We were 19-year-olds calling out to 14- and 15-year-old kids to surrender." -- Walter Harris, 78, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, reminiscing about World War II. On Dec. 4, the capital city finally dedicated a memorial to veterans of World War II. ("Springfield remembers," Dec. 2)

Staff writers Dusty Rhodes and Todd Spivak contributed to this compilation.

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