Tara Conner may not be the woman of the year, exactly, but she stands in for the past year, 12 months during which we became so disconnected from death in Iraq that a partying beauty-pageant winner could consume airtime on every local and national news telecast. Below, find CityBeat's take on last year's news, from the substantial to the sublime to the ridiculous: Iraq sunk into civil war and North Korea exploded its first nuke; scandal-soaked Republicans launched the Democrats back into power; San Diego's elected leaders tried to haul the city out of the hole dug by the pension scandal; and we all learned the term “bribe menu.” But don't worry: Miss USA is going to be OK.
President George W. Bush starts the year defending his use of warrantless wiretaps, saying there's nothing to worry about: They're perfectly legal and they'll protect us from terrorists. Families of 12 miners trapped underground after an explosion are overjoyed to learn they're loved ones are alive-oops, check that, all but one are dead. Fedora-wearing lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleads guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in two separate cases, and lawmakers, Bush included, frantically start giving back Abramoff campaign contributions. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffers a massive stroke and is placed in medically induced coma, where he remains.
The Supreme Court rebuffs Bush's effort to kill Oregon's assisted-suicide law, and then welcome Samuel Alito into their exclusive club. Exxon announces a record $36 billion profit in 2005, one day before Bush, in his State of the Union address, says the nation's addicted to oil. Meanwhile, the Ford Motor Company announces it will close up to 14 factories and cut up to 30,000 jobs over the next six years. In California, Clarence Ray Allen, 76, becomes the oldest man to be executed in the state. Meanwhile, clinging to political life, a chastened Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger turns another new leaf, announcing a massive public-works program to fix what ails California.
In San Diego, as the “strong mayor” era begins, new Mayor Sanders gives his first State of the City speech, calling city government “embarrassing” and “corrupt” and saying he'll change the city's operating philosophy, which he says has been to “delay, deny or deceive.” Kevin Faulconer (narrowly) and Ben Hueso (overwhelmingly) are elected to the San Diego City Council. National City Mayor Nick Inzunza, smarting from allegations that he's a slumlord, quits his run for state Assembly, and the Chargers, blaming City Attorney Mike Aguirre, quit their bid to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium site with a new arena and thousands of condos.
U.S. Attorney Carol Lam announces indictments of Lawrence Grissom, Lori Chapin, Ron Saathoff, Cathy Lexin and Terri Webster on conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from a vote by the San Diego City Employees Retirement System Board of Administration to enhance retirement benefits. And the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, complaining about having to create a medicinal-marijuana ID-card program, sues the state in an attempt to strike down Proposition 215.
Fundamentalist Muslims go apoplectic over the publication in various European newspapers of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, and global chaos ensues. And Sunni insurgents bomb the Askariyah Shrine at a beloved Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, igniting a wave of sectarian violence that would, over the course of the year, help plunge the country into civil war. A boat ferrying 1,400 people sinks in the Red Sea, killing some 1,000 passengers. Former FEMA chief Michael Brown tells a Senate committee that the Bush administration did not do a “heckuva job” in preparing for disasters-officials were too preoccupied with terrorism, he says. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that “Scooter” Libby told investigators that Dick Cheney told him to leak classified information about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction to reporters amid the run-up to war; Cheney says there's no law against that. Perhaps out of frustration, Cheney shoots hunting pal Harry Whittington in the face, and lots of people wonder why the veep takes his sweet time reporting the incident to the public.
Federal attorneys ask a judge to sentence disgraced Congressman Duke Cunningham to 10 years in prison, showing the judge-and the public, for the first time-Cunningham's infamous “bribe menu.” A federal judge orders California to change the way it executes people because it might be cruel and unusual. Adrian Camacho might be one of the beneficiaries of that change after he's sentenced to death in a Vista courtroom for the 2003 killing of Oceanside police officer Tony Zeppetella. Photos of Britney Spears driving her SUV show her infant son sitting in his mother's lap, not strapped in a car seat-tsk, tsk, everyone says.
Animal-rights activist Rod Coronado is arrested by federal agents for demonstrating, during a 2003 appearance in Hillcrest, how to make incendiary devices the same day militant environmentalists burn an apartment complex under construction in University City to the ground. Jerry Sanders launches his campaign to get what will become Props. B and C on the ballot. Two small planes collide over a La Mesa neighborhood, killing three people aboard and showering homes and a park with flaming debris. And Ben Roethlisberger leads the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
After being held hostage for three months in Iraq, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll is freed. The U.S. Senate votes to make most of the USA Patriot Act permanent, emphasis on most-two of the act's ickier provisions (roving wiretaps, secret warrants for info from hospitals and libraries) will expire in four years. A study says soda makes people fat. The Supreme Court says colleges that don't allow military recruiters on campus can't apply for federal grants. And George Bush celebrates the three-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, mumbling something about “making good progress.” (As of March 20, 2,313 military personnel had been killed in Iraq.)
“I did it to myself.... It was me, Duke Cunningham.” Eight years, four months in prison as Duke says goodbye to his French commodes. A couple of weeks later, folks line up in L.A. to bid on Cunningham's loot.
Its report already overdue by three months and over budget by $15-something-million, Kroll, the company investigating San Diego's pension mess, postpones the March 1 release of its report and then, two weeks later, postpones again. CityBeat intern Jesse Ross skips school to report on thousands of other high-school students protesting illegal-immigration policy. The PB Block Party is denied a permit for the first time in its 30-year history, opponents citing the street fair's increasing unruliness, snow falls on the county's eastern parts, and thoughts of putting a commercial airport at Miramar make the Regional Airport Authority drool.
The family of the man killed by killer-tweaker-hottie Kristen Rossum wants $10 million from the county, her former employer, for failing to realize the killer-hottie was a tweaker. The SDSU Aztecs basketball team wins the Mountain West Conference for the first time and Japan beats Cuba at Petco Park to win the first-ever World Baseball Classic. And, shunned by the Chargers, Quarterback Drew Brees opts for Sainthood.
The title of a federal-government report on Hurricane Katrina is the understatement of the year: “A failure of initiative.” Bush may be re-thinking his praise of “Brownie,” but he has only positive things to say about Rummy's “energetic and steady leadership.” In Iraq, 71 people are killed and another 140 injured when a Sunni suicide bomber targets a Shiite mosque.
Beloved San Diego icon Wahrenbrock's Book House reopens after a Feb. 17 fire while another landmark, the 92-year-old Hotel San Diego, is imploded via 358 pounds of explosives. No one can explain the source of a mysterious April 4 sonic boom heard (and felt) throughout the county (no, it wasn't the implosion). Despite being told by lots and lots of people-like, almost everyone-that a commercial airport at Miramar is a bad idea, the Regional Airport Authority opines that it would be great if the Marines could just move somewhere else.
In a special election to replace disgraced Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Francine Busby comes within six percentage points of winning outright, which is about as good as it'll ever get for Dems in that district. Mayor Jerry Sanders says police officers won't be getting a pay raise while San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Bowman quits over the city's lack of public-safety funds. Gas costs a lot.
“Papa Doug” Manchester is picked by the Navy to build its new headquarters near the waterfront; of course, to pay for that, Manchester says he'll need to build lots of really tall buildings, view be damned. Three and a half months into the four-month seal-pupping season, the City Council votes to put the rope barrier back up at La Jolla's Children's Pool. And the Union-Tribune gives itself way too much credit for winning a Pulitzer Prize that likely should have gone solely to Copley News Service's Marcus Stern for breaking the Cunningham story.
A story in USA Today reports that the National Security Administration asked Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T to hand over tens of millions of customer phone records to the government. Meanwhile Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he'll turn over cash incentives to women who have babies-seems post-communist Russia isn't motivating people to procreate.
The border bike lane is closed, ending the profitable post-9/11 rent-a-bike-rather-than-wait-in-line business. Here, the San Diego City Council tells the Chargers there's no money for a stadium and the team is free to shop themselves around to other San Diego County towns. Regional Airport Authority: “Hey, Marines, what if we share MCAS? Our commercial aircraft, your super-fast jets-they're all fly-ee things, so what's the problem?” Marines: “You guys gotta be kidding.” Airport Authority: “Pretty please?” Marines: “Be gone with you, Airport Authority; bother us no more with your trifling requests.” Five minutes pass. Airport Authority: “Hey, Marines, what if we share MCAS?” Marines: Sigh.
Meanwhile, county Supervisor Bill Horn said he wants a study done to find out how much illegal immigrants cost the county. Judge Gordon Thompson, who, 16 years ago, told the city to take down the Mt. Soledad cross, reaffirms that ruling, imposing a deadline of 90 days and a $5,000-a-day fine thereafter; Mayor Jerry Sanders and Rep. Duncan Hunter ask the Bush administration to step in and declare the land the cross sits on a state park (even though the City Council voted to oppose such a plan in 2005) while a certain loudmouth radio personality says he'll chain himself to the cinder-block monument if he has to.
Steve “The Fat Man Walking” Vaught finishes up his 13-month walking trip from San Diego to New York, and Mayor Jerry Sanders says he wants to spend $1.2 million on an “Office of Ethics and Integrity,” which will let employees know that qualities like “integrity,” “honesty” and “accountability” are all things to strive for.
Two 500-pound bombs fall on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's safe house, killing the al Qaeda in Iraq leader, but not so much so that he doesn't look good for his post-mortem publicity photo. In Washington, D.C., the guy George Bush calls “Turd Blossom” (but we call “Karl Rove”) finds out he won't be indicted in the Valerie Plame-CIA leak case. Amid an election-fraud indictment in Texas, Tom DeLay steps down from his congressional seat, saying he wants “to pursue new opportunities to engage in the important cultural and political battles of our day from an arena outside of the U.S. House of Representatives.” We wish him luck with that. A study finds that the average American has only two close friends. And San Antonio surpasses San Diego to become the nation's seventh largest city (perhaps because homes there are one-fifth cheaper than here).
Marines at MCAS Miramar launch a publicity campaign to tell the Airport Authority what it can do with its plan to seek joint use of Miramar. The 9th Circuit Court says it'll have none of this “keep the Mt. Soledad Cross” nonsense. Days before the June 6 special election to replace former Congressman Duke Cunningham, Democratic candidate Francine Busby says something that can be misconstrued only in a legislative district where people get their undies all in a bunch over the subject of illegal immigration: “You don't need papers for voting; you don't need to be a registered voter to help [with my campaign].” The Vista City Council gears up to introduce a law that would require anyone who hires day laborers to register with the city, and in San Diego, Tracy Jarman becomes the city's first female fire chief.
The bloody month: Some 200 people die in the Bombay train bombing aimed at Indian middle-class professionals; 43 American soldiers die in Iraq; and Israel invades Lebanon. Back home, the Supreme Court slaps down the Bush administration and orders it to obey the Geneva Conventions. The next day, the administration announces that the U.S. government has always obeyed the Geneva Conventions. The government releases its report on the Haditha killings, finding fault with top-brass response, and, separately, three Camp Pendleton Marines are charged with rape and murder in Iraq. The violence spills over into sports when French soccer star Zinedine Zedane head-butts an opposing player, which, of course, makes him more famous than he could possibly have imagined.
The Drug Enforcement Agency raids 10 pot dispensaries, and the Department of the Interior takes ownership of the Mt. Soledad cross. The House of Representatives tours San Diego to learn about immigration, but they should just drop in on Vista, when the town orders anyone employing day laborers to get a license.
The great San Diego vs. Mother Nature duel intensifies. Mother Nature took the first round with a brutally hot summer that led to 57 deaths across California. San Diego struck back with a massive fuel leak into San Diego Bay from Point Loma, whose cleanup cost rises to $63 million. Mother Nature hits back with a bacteria spike in Mission Bay that closes beaches, but San Diego lands the final blow by refusing to treat our wastewater so we could keep draining the Colorado River. The fight is a draw; a rematch is planned.
Allerca discovers there's no way to skin a non-allergenic cat if the cats don't actually exist. In Los Angeles, a mother of triplets gives birth to quintuplets-without the aid of fertility drugs.
In Mexico, we see what would have happened if Al Gore hadn't stepped aside with such gentility in 2000. Leftist candidate for the Mexican presidency Manuel Andres Louis Obrador refuses to admit defeat after the Mexican high court throws a deadlocked election to his opponent, Felipe Calderón. Obrador vows to set up an alternate government and to protest for years, if necessary.
The lilly-livered Kroll Corporation finally releases its overdue report that, like Vinson & Elkins before it, declines to hold any elected officials responsible for the pension debacle currently occupying all of our political energy. The report collects a series of recommendations from the reports written by other government agencies and puts the Kroll stamp on them, all for the low, low price of $20 million.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger throws off his conservative manacles and gets behind guest-worker programs for immigrants and also signs an agreement with Great Britain to cap greenhouse gases. After receiving wisdom from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Californians applaud the move before driving their SUVs home.
Another 65 American servicemen and women die in Iraq as the nation comes to grips with the unfolding mess. The two generals commanding the war criticize the Bush administration for bungling the occupation. The president stays the course.
British agents foil a terrorist plot to blow up airplanes using liquid explosives. In a panic, the Department of Homeland Security bans liquids on airplanes. No one is made safer. And speaking of government action that doesn't make anyone safer, drug agents bust Francisco Arellano, the head of a major Mexican drug cartel. Arellano is still on trial, but the power vacuum among drug lords has lead to a spike in violent crime in Tijuana.
John Mark Karr confesses to killing child beauty queen Jonbenet Ramsey. Karr's ex-wife clears him, saying Karr was with her when the killing happened. In sad astronomical news, Pluto loses its status as a planet.
The month opens with a bang as an off-duty cop shoots Chargers linebacker Steve Foley. (Get it? A bang?) Foley is lost to the team for the season. Padres closer Trevor Hoffman becomes the all-time career saves leader.
Congress passes, and the president signs, the Military Commissions Act. The new law gives the federal government the power to declare anyone, anywhere, an enemy combatant, and to remove their right to habeas corpus. Americans are not made any safer. CityBeat officially goes into mourning for our lost civil rights.
Election-wise, the news for Bush and the Republicans keeps getting worse as a leaked National Intelligence Estimate says the war in Iraq is increasing the likelihood of terror attacks here around the world. Mark Foley resigns his seat after texting sexual messages to teenage congressional pages. Bill Clinton, who wishes he'd thought of that, galvanizes the Democratic Party by wagging the Clinton Finger at Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Meanwhile, on a local Fox News channel, investigative reporter John Mattes gets the crap kicked out of him by an irate subject.
The trail of an outbreak of E. coli leads to California farms. Children rejoice as parents stop buying spinach. Rejoicing ends when the parents switch to Swiss chard.
The Lebanese and the Israelis agree to a cease-fire and a U.N. peacekeeping force tentatively sets up base.
On happier notes, the 300 millionth American is born, California raises the minimum wage, and vast new oil reserves are discovered in Prudhoe Bay, hopefully forestalling the oil-shortage-induced apocalypse. And speaking of oil, The Ford Motor Company lays off 75,000 workers. The economy hums along, proving that what's bad for Ford may not matter to America. In other news, Spanish fashionistas refuse to use models who are, if you can believe it, too skinny.
North Korea blows up its first nuclear bomb. Iran continues to refine its own uranium declaring, “Anything Kim Jong-il can do, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can do better.”
The hiss from the air coming out of the real-estate bubble goes up a decibel as new housing starts fall to a new low and condo conversions slow. Foreclosures on high-risk mortgages jump.
The Padres get bounced from the playoffs. Shawne Merriman is suspended four games for using steroids, and the St. Louis Cardinals win it all. LaDainian Tomlinson kicks off a record-setting season by becoming the all-time Chargers touchdowns leader. Sanders declares that the city of San Diego cannot help the Chargers get a new stadium, but the Chargers are looking at South Bay cities anyway.
Candidates for Congress spend record sums to bombard us with TV commercials, mailers, fliers, pre-recorded phone calls, newspaper ads and radio ads. Arnold Schwarzenegger buries his opponent, what's-his-name, in the polls and the opponent is never heard from again. Republicans claim that the Foley Scandal, the DeLay Scandal, the Ney Scandal, and the 110 American service members killed in the Iraq civil war this month will not harm their chances of maintaining control of Congress. Few can hear the message through the sand in which they've buried their heads. Local Rep. Duncan Hunter announces his bid for president, brushes sand from hair first.
Xenophobia in the county reaches a local maximum when Escondido passes an ordinance to punish landlords for renting to illegal immigrants. The ordinance will later be withdrawn, but not before the town elects a fourth xenophobic council member.
A 7.2-maginitude political earthquake hits the nation's capital as the Democrats, benefiting from the electorate's distaste for corruption and a failing war, takes the House and the Senate from reeling Republicans. Arnold Schwarzenegger finishes up his incredible Houdini act, cruising to reelection in California, while, locally, Mayor Jerry Sanders wins a major victory over the unions with the overwhelming passage of Prop. C, and it looks like there will be no civilian airport at Miramar.
In the wake of the national elections, Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman named as speaker of the House, and President Bush fires-er, accepts the resignation of-Donald Rumsfeld, exactly one week after saying he wanted Rummy around for the duration of his presidency. The Pentagon and the State Department issue a report saying U.S.-trained police in Afghanistan are incompetent.
In Colorado, anti-gay evangelist Ted Haggard is forced to step down after a man reveals he's had lots and lots of meth-powered gay sex with the Haggard, who half-heartedly denies it then admits he'd engaged in some “sexual immorality.” At the end of a thoroughly entertaining trial in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death for sentencing many of his people to death back in the '80s. Michael Richards yells “He's a nigger!” in an L.A. comedy club, and O.J. Simpson reminds the world that he did it.
Here, a judge deals county supervisors a blow by upholding the state's medicinal-marijuana law, and another one orders the city of Escondido to hold off on enacting its law banning illegal immigrants from renting housing. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission tells the city of San Diego to stop committing fraud, Encinitas native John Jodka Jr. is sentenced to 18 months in a Marine Corps brig for his role in the death of an Iraqi civilian, and some 180 migrant workers are evicted from McGonigle Canyon. The Navy admits that 10 million gallons of raw poop have flowed unmolested into San Diego Bay during the last two years, and the San Diego City Council just says no to Wal-Mart Supercenters.
The Iraq Study Group recommends gradual troop withdrawal from the catastrophic war and diplomacy with Iran and Syria, and the president backs away from the report, saying he'd rather send more troops into the quagmire. Ninety American service members are killed in Iraq (as of Dec. 26), bringing the 2006 total to 799 and the overall total to 2,979. Robert Gates is confirmed as the new secretary of defense. Bush is forced to remove John Bolton as U.N. ambassador and is chagrined as Hugo Chávez is reelected in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega wins in Nicaragua. Dick Cheney announces his lesbian daughter is preggers, irritating the religious right. And Iran irritates the rational world by holding a Holocaust-didn't-happen conference.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, Rosie O'Donnell and Tara Conner battle for media attention against a futile search for two missing mountain climbers in Oregon, only to be outdone on the Jackass Meter by Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, who tells the world what he thinks of Muslims.
Scientists say there's water flowing-right now-on Mars, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson gives the Democrats a scare by undergoing emergency brain surgery, and the Supreme Court gets involved in a case involving an Alaska teen who was booted out of school for displaying a “Bong hits 4 Jesus” banner during the Olympic torch relay. In Los Angeles, a woman puts her infant through an airport X-ray machine.
Closer to home, Mike Aguirre vows to appeal after he loses the case of his life when a judge says hundreds of millions of dollars worth of city-employee pension benefits are legal. The Escondido City Council throws in the towel on their anti-immigrant housing law, Sen. Christine Kehoe introduces a bill that starts chipping away at the Regional Airport Authority's authority, and the Marine Corps charges eight of its own in the Haditha-massacre case.
And the Man of the Year, LaDainian Tomlinson, breaks the NFL's touchdown record and carries the Chargers to a division title.
See ya next year!
Famous people you'll miss
Red Buttons Actor and comedian
Anne Richards Former governor of Texas
Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin Poked dangerous animals on live TV
Tokyo Rose Japanese radio propagandist
Ken Lay CEO of Enron
Fritz Klein Father of bisexuality
Esther Snyder Co-founder of In-N-out
Syd Barrett Founding member of Pink Floyd
Aaron Spelling TV producer
Betty Friedan Feminist, author of The Feminine Mystique
Don Knotts Comic actor
Maynard Ferguson Jazz trumpeter
Coretta Scott King Civil rights activist
Joseph Barbera Cartoon producer
Peter Boyle Actor
Wilson Pickett Soul and blues singer
Slobadan Milosevich Serbian bad guy
John Kenneth Galbraith Economist
Wendy Wasserstein Playwright, The Heidi Chronicles
Mickey Spillane Author of Mike Hammer books
Robert Altman Filmmaker who created M.A.S.H., Nashville, Shortcuts
Milton Friedman Economist
Jack Palance Oscar winner for City Slickers
Ed Bradley 60 Minutes correspondent
Augusto Pinochet Peruvian bad guy
Philip Paulson Mt. Soledad cross opponent
Jeane Kirkpatrick American ambassador, Communist hater
Jesús Blancornelas Mexican journalist, founder of Zeta
Lou Rawls R&B singer
Shelley Winters Actor
Chris Penn Actor, brother of Sean
Al Lewis Played Grandpa Munster
Kirby Puckett Baseball player
Buck Owens Country singer
Caspar Weinberger Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense
Lloyd Bentsen U.S. Senator from Texas, insulter of Dan Quayle
Billy Preston Musician, “fifth Beatle”
Jack Warden Actor
Mike Douglas Talk-show host
Bruno Kirby Character actor
Red Auerbach Legendary Celtics coach, cigar smoker
James Brown Godfather of Soul