Some say 2016 was the worst year ever, with diseases, disasters, terrorism, and political scandals elbowed out of the headlines only occasionally by the gut punch of a favorite figure from screen or radio dying.
Philadelphia, though, had more of a mixed jawn. Here’s a look at the City of Brotherly Love’s highs and lows in 2016:
Jim Kenney became Philadelphia’s 99th mayor in January. Less than a year into his four-year term, Kenney already has savored several victories, including launching Rebuild, his $500 million initiative to improve the city’s parks, libraries, and recreation centers; expanding pre-kindergarten with money from the city’s new soda tax; and boosting diversity in city government through hiring and city contracts.
He also faced a tough test in his first months on the job, when thousands of out-of-towners flooded the city for the Democratic National Convention, held at the Wells Fargo Center in July. The convention also drew scores of protesters who marched daily to support Bernie Sanders, highlight Philly’s crippling poverty, or express an untold number of other opinions, but the summer’s sweltering heat and indulgent policing tempered the drama.
Just weeks after the DNC ended, the 2016 Rio Olympics began, with more than three-dozen athletes hailing from the Philadelphia region. Among the locals who snagged a medal: hurdler Nia Ali, basketballers Tamika Catchings and Kyle Lowry, swimmer Cierra Runge, shot putter Joe Kovacs, fencer Miles Chamley-Watson and equestrian Phillip Dutton.
Speaking of medals, WHYY’s own Terry Gross went to the White House in September, when President Obama honored her among a dozen others with a National Humanities Medal. Gross was chosen, the president said, because she has “a gift for creative empathy” demonstrated in her work on “Fresh Air,” which she has hosted since 1975.
The city’s public spaces hosted a parade of firsts — and lasts: Franklin Square in Center City hosted its first international Chinese Lantern Festival last spring, the Philadelphia Museum of Art got creative; and LOVE Park in Center City offered skateboarders a final fling before closing in February for extensive renovations.
Beyond taxis, transportation woes dominated the news broadcasts for much of 2016.
A train defect took out nearly a third of SEPTA’s regional rail fleet during the height of the summer, leading to crowded cars and short tempers. That headache hadn’t been gone long when another arose: About 4,700 bus, trolley, and subway workers waged a weeklong strike in a dispute over pensions and work conditions. Political observers worried the strike could dent voter turnout in a city reliant on public transit, but the strike ended with one day to spare before Election Day.
The year offered plenty more transportation turmoil.
New Jersey’s Bridgegate trial — about the political scheme that caused traffic jams in Fort Lee — ended with the convictions of two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie. The case, though, likely will echo at least through 2017, watchers agree.
And in May, federal authorities ruled that distracted driving caused the May 2015 deadly derailment of Amtrak 188. The National Transportation Safety Board also blasted Amtrak for failing to install positive train control on the corridor, saying it could have prevented the crash that killed eight people and injured more than 200. In October, a federal judge ordered Amtrak to pay $265 million to settle more than 125 lawsuits stemming from the wreck.
Mother Nature lost her temper at times in 2016, with a whopper of a storm meteorologists dubbed Jonas in January.
As for bad news in 2016 that has nothing to do with transportation or weather, we turn to the Gayborhood, where long-simmering complaints of racism exploded late this summer into regular protests, boycotts, and finally city intervention.
And as the world mourned luminaries lost in 2016 such as Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, John Glenn, and George Michael, Philadelphia lost some of its beloved heroes too, including Flyers legend Ed Snider, boxer Muhammad Ali, and performer David Bowie (who recorded two albums here).
Some news is beyond bad, and 2016 offered up plenty of crime and corruption that could only be called ugly.
It started with the Jan. 7 shooting of Officer Jesse Hartnett, who miraculously escaped death when a gunman approached his parked car and shot repeatedly at him. The gunman, Edward Archer, told police he acted “in the name of Islam.” Another officer, Sgt. Sylvia Young, also survived an ambush in September, although the gunman — who left a note expressing hatred for police — shot five other people, including a woman who later died.
And the worst mass shooting in American history — the June 12 massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 dead — touched this region as well, with its youngest victim, 18-year-old Akyra Murray, hailing from West Philly.
And while the region’s courthouses churned out a steady stream of handcuffed convicts this year, none riled up as much outrage, perhaps, as the disgraced public servants who abused their offices for personal gain. Those included former Congressman Chaka Fattah and former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Union leader John Dougherty and entertainer Bill Cosby also fought off criminal accusations this year.
The jury’s still out
And maybe the biggest news of the year: Voters elected Donald Trump and rejected Hillary Clinton as the next president. Whether that’s good or bad news depends on your political affiliation and your thoughts on everything from immigration to the environment to reproductive rights.
Trump’s unexpected win led to daily protests in the streets — good news if you oppose Trump, or see protests as a rejection of racist rhetoric during the campaign, or bad if you support Trump, or see protests as too little too late.
Speaking of New Jersey, the state in November announced it would take over Atlantic City’s assets and major decision-making powers to help the shore resort town shed problems stemming from its shrinking casino industry. That’s good, if you think the state can fix things, but not so good if you don’t.
And lastly, Mayor Kenney restored Philadelphia’s status as a “sanctuary city,” or a city that protects undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws nor turning them over to immigration authorities. A “sanctuary campus” movement followed at several local colleges and universities. The concept has many critics and supporters, setting 2017 up for plenty of debate on the issue.