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Mary Ellen Barbera. Appointed chief judge of the state’s top court. First woman to hold that post.

Laura Neuman. Anne Arundel County’s new county executive with a heroic life story and plenty of smarts.

Tom Perez. President Obama’s new secretary of labor (this guy is a perennial rising star).

Ben Carson. Hopkins superstar neurosurgeon celebrated by Hollywood and the media until he ventured into politics this year as a conservative, becoming a national political figure.

MGM. Won the new casino rights in P.G. County (shocker?); will make zillions.

Stock market. Stocks cap best year of century with 30 percent gains.

Mike Pantelides. The young Republican who won Annapolis mayor’s race by 59 votes.

Cyber security. Maryland’s hottest new growth industry with unlimited potential.

University of Maryland. Breaks into top 10 on Playboy’s best “party schools” list.

Bao Bao. The National Zoo’s new baby giant panda whose every move dominates the news.

Towson Tigers. Coach Rob Ambrose takes Towson U. football from 1-10 (2010) to the 2013 National Championship game.

“The Wire.” Baltimore-based HBO series named number one TV show of all time by EW magazine.

The 2000 Dodge Caravan. Maryland’s most stolen car, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Falling stars

Pro sports. Both the Orioles (.525) and the Nationals (.531) defy expectations, failing to make the playoffs. Meanwhile the NFL champion Ravens also miss the playoffs while the Redskins go 3-13 and fire coach Shanahan.

The Terps. Football team limped through its last ACC season before joining the Big Ten (thank God the College Park geniuses didn’t put us in the SEC).

Gold. The economic downturn drove up gold from $500 per ounce to $1,900 in 2011, but 2013 was the first year this century that gold finished lower than it began.

Coal. Cheap natural gas (fracking) and stiff new EPA regs helped close two Maryland coal-fired plants, ban new ones.

Public-financed hotels. Baltimore’s $300 million taxpayer-financed Hilton Hotel has lost $70 million since it opened in 2008. Meanwhile, the $120 million state-financed Cambridge Hyatt Hotel can’t pay its bills either. Both hotels are draining reserve funds.

Maryland business/retirement climate. Maryland’s business climate dropped from 40th to 41st nationally and the state tied with Vermont (44th) as “one of the worst places to retire,” according to national surveys.

Fiascos and scams of the year

Baltimore speed cameras. When Baltimore’s hopelessly flawed speed cameras issued 70,000 incorrect tickets (including a parked truck) the city agreed to a $2.2 million camera replacement plan but exited the contract by paying off the vendor $600,000.

Maryland’s Obamacare exchange. Maryland’s self-styled website crashed the first day and has never fully recovered. It makes the federal website look good, but state legislators don’t want to hold anyone accountable until after November’s elections.

Baltimore jail bust. The state took over the Baltimore jail in the early 1990s due to the city’s mismanagement. Yet, in April the feds busted the jail and indicted 44 inmates and guards who abetted the Black Guerrilla Family’s free run of the lockup.

The rain tax. Taxpayers in Maryland’s 10 largest counties received “rain tax” bills for stormwater runoff from their rooftops and driveways.

Baltimore’s school construction. As a reward for the city’s years of failing to close schools and for operating half-empty buildings, the state guaranteed $20 million a year for thirty years to fix the problem while leaving other counties to fight for year-to-year funding.

Robert Saylor. When this Down syndrome moviegoer tried to watch an extra show, three off-duty Frederick County deputies scuffled with him, leading to his death by asphyxiation.

Silver Spring Transit Center. Due to faulty concrete work, this $120 million project is wildly over budget, overdue and a major embarrassment.

DHCD headquarters. In a political payoff to P.G. County (and punishment to Anne Arundel County) Gov. Martin O’Malley defied all logic and cost effectiveness by relocating the Department of Housing and Community Development HQ to New Carrollton.

Court delays. Once a case is heard by Maryland’s top court, how long before a ruling should be rendered? How about seven years? In 2006 the court heard Kevin Alston’s plea for parole eligibility. But, by the time the court decided (2013) in his favor, Alston had completed his five-year sentence. Numerous such delays are a judicial scandal.

School cheating. No, not the students, it’s the administrators. Why are Maryland’s schools top ranked? Because Maryland leads the nation in excluding low-scoring special ed and immigrant students from national testing.

More school cheating. Auditors found P.G. schools misspent $167,000 in federal stimulus funds (engraved watches, rental cars, teas) and $540,000 misspent by Baltimore schools (harbor cruises, catered mom/daughter “makeover days”). A Baltimore principal stole $10,000 from a student activity fund, a Baltimore school board member resigned for falsifying his education resume, and the University of Maryland disclosed that it secretly hired a PR firm to sway public opinion in favor of its move to the Big Ten.

Obamaphones. Free cellphones for low-income Maryland families grew from 5,821 (2008) to 509,000 (2012), an increase 40 times the national average because half the recipients were ineligible.

Air pollution. Despite Maryland’s punitive environmental efforts against state businesses, it turns out that 70 percent of Maryland’s air pollution comes from upwind states beyond Maryland’s control.



Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is blairleeiv@gmail.com.