New Orleans has always had its own trends, newsmakers and obsessions. This year, it seemed our civic life was bookended by scandals, beginning with the New Orleans Saints bounty revelation and investigation and ending with U.S. Attorney Jim Letten stepping down. But plenty of other people made the headlines in 2012 — some saints, some sinners, some stars, some average Joes. And if there was a lesson to be learned, it was to be careful what you post on online comment boards — as no fewer than four people in our countdown learned.
While the rest of America was singing "Call Me Maybe," transfixed by Honey Boo Boo and doing it Gangnam Style, this is what captivated New Orleanians' attention in 2012.
Harry "Mike" Ainsworth
It was a horrible start to 2012: On Jan. 25, Ainsworth, an Algiers resident, was walking his children, 9 and 10, to the school bus when he came upon a carjacking. He attempted to assist the driver and was shot. Ainsworth's children stayed with their father until police arrived, but he was dead at 44. The brazenness and brutality of the crime made New Orleanians wonder how violent the New Year would be. The answer: plenty. As of press time, New Orleans had 182 murders — the equivalent of nearly nine Newtowns.
The Parole Violator
New Orleans-born rapper Mystikal's busy career was derailed in 2004 when he served six years in prison on state and federal charges ranging from sexual battery to failing to file taxes. In February, a domestic dustup left him in violation of his parole and sent him back to jail. He was released from East Baton Rouge Prison in August. He ended the year with a new single, the James Brown-inspired "Hit Me."
In one of the year's four cases of online comments getting someone in trouble, Traina — a psychologist who worked with schoolchildren in Jefferson Parish public schools — drew fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and civil rights groups after comments on NOLA.com and Twitter. Traina said young black male criminals need to be "put down like the Dogs they are!" and said he was a "Wallace Man at Heart," referring to segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. The SPLC filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Traina resigned in late May.
Elton Mark McCabe
The Foreign Prisoner
The Slidell businessman was on a business trip in South Sudan in October when he was arrested, jailed and charged with kidnapping. Sen. David Vitter publicized the case and agitated for McCabe's release. After a month in various jails, McCabe was released on bail and a Sudanese judge finally dropped the charges. He returned home Dec. 10 — and was arrested three days later on charges of accepting kickbacks and wire fraud.
The Bar Owner
After experiencing "Hollywood South" while filming 21 Jump Street, the movie hunk decided to open his own New Orleans bar — in the heart of the Bourbon Street tourist drink-and-barf district. (The bar advertised it had "The Sexiest Boss Alive!".) The bordello-themed Saints and Sinners seemed aimed squarely at tourists, with $15 po-boys and a $40, four-pound hamburger. Finish it in 30 minutes and it's free.
Bad: Having a joint fall out of your pocket. Worse: Having it happen in court. Worser: Having it happen when you're an assistant city attorney. Worsest: Having your wife running for City Council at the time. After some confusion over whether Cantrell would resign from the city (he eventually did), his wife LaToya Cantrell weathered the storm and went on to a runoff and an eventual win in the City Council District B race.
Glen David Andrews
Earlier this year, the trombone player was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault by D.A. Leon Cannizzaro's office after a violent altercation with a girlfriend. Andrews, who has struggled with addiction, spent three months during the summer in a rehab program and returned to performing in the fall, singing the praises of a sober life. His cases are still pending.
Jason Giroir The Commenter
After the February shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida, NOPD officer Jason Giroir posted a message — "Act like a Thug Die like one!" — on WWL-TV's website. Both NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas and Mayor Mitch Landrieu made clear their disapproval, and Giroir subsequently resigned from the force. The incident raised questions about conduct on news comment boards — and it wouldn't be the only time that practice got someone into trouble this year.
The Art Man
The director of the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) since 1996, Weigel had been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years when two visual arts curators resigned in less than 18 months and artists removed their works from the galleries in protest. In May, Gambit was about to go to press with a cover story about the CAC's woes when Weigel announced his resignation during a trip to China, saying he would be returning to his first vocation, composing.
The pastor of the Vieux Carre Assembly of God church and Bourbon Street preacher filed suit against the city of New Orleans after the city council passed legislation prohibiting the dissemination of "any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise" on the city's sin strip. The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up his cause.
The Bounce Queen
Freedia had her biggest year ever, starting with her national TV debut in January on Jimmy Kimmel Live, followed by a tour that included New York, Chicago and a well-received set at South by Southwest (Rolling Stone said "towering transvestite New Orleans bounce-rapper Big Freedia ... channeled Little Richard"). The year ended with Freedia bouncing her booty all the way down to Australia.
The Other Publisher
When The Times-Picayune announced it would be cutting print editions back to three days a week, the folksy publisher of The Advocate made a quick move into New Orleans, opening a local bureau, hiring many laid-off T-P employees and delivering the paper seven days a week. Delivery got off to a spotty, frustrating start, but at year's end, the paper had smashed even its most optimistic circulation goals. This month, the paper launched "Beaucoup," a weekly entertainment tabloid that directly took on the T-P's longtime "Lagniappe" section, and introduced a community news page.
The Former Senate President
The Chalmette native spent 32 years in the Louisiana Legislature, making his name synonymous with St. Bernard Parish and Capitol politics. Although he never represented any part of New Orleans, he was a champion of the city against fiscal and political raids by rural lawmakers. When he was defeated for re-election in 1995, Nunez was in his second go-round as president of the state Senate. Nunez died in January at 81. He was eulogized by former Gov. Edwin Edwards at a Mass in St. Louis Cathedral.
When the Gert Town mother murdered her two preschoolers in October, it shocked even a crime-weary city. But Thornton — who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder — quickly became a human indictment of Louisiana's public mental health system when it came out she suffered from bipolar disorder and possibly schizophrenia. At a hearing this month, a Tulane University forensic psychiatrist said she was incompetent to stand trial.
The bad blood between WWL-TV and WVUE-TV got worse in September when Jim Henderson, one of the country's best sportscasters and a man who had been synonymous with WWL during 34 years as sports director there before his retirement, signed a contract to be a football analyst at WVUE. Conspiracy theorists made much of the fact that, even in television retirement, Henderson wanted to keep his job as the radio "voice of the Saints" — and WVUE is owned by Saints owner Tom Benson. Hmm.
One of Louisiana's most legendary and respected chefs went into business with Chicago chef Rick Tramonto to open Restaurant R'evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel – a throwback to opulent (and pricey) dining at a time when pop-up restaurants and cheap eats are in vogue. Since opening in June, it's proved a popular and critical success.
Uncle Lionel Batiste, drummer for the Treme Brass Band and an indelible symbol of New Orleans' brass band and musical culture, died in July at the age of 81. He had been a fixture on the New Orleans music scene since the 1940s, and was still playing music until nearly the time of his death.
The New Orleans native and star of The Wire and Treme had a busy year, filming several movies (including this year's installment of the Twilight series). On the home front, he continued with plans to redevelop the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood and open several grocery stores in New Orleans neighborhoods that badly need them.
The New Orleans rapper has been on the scene for years, but put out his first major-label album, The Stoned Immaculate, for Warner Bros. in June (it debuted in the Top 10). His success earned him a Gambit cover interview, and he held a hometown record release party at House of Blues on Independence Day and debuted a weekly show at the club.
The Chief Justice
When Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball announced her January 2013 retirement, a court scuffle developed over seniority, which determines who would take Kimball's place. Did time as an appointed judge count, or was it based solely on elected tenure on the bench? In October, the state Supreme Court ruled that Johnson – who had been on the bench longest – would become the new chief justice, the first African-American to hold the position.