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New Orleans' Top 50 Newsmakers of the Year 

Kevin Allman breaks down the biggest stories of 2012

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James Carter
The Cipher

Mayor Mitch Landrieu created a $115,000 job as city "crime commissioner" for attorney and former city councilman James Carter, but Carter left the position in September, just shy of a year and a half in office. Despite some high-profile anti-crime initiatives, the murder rate hadn't abated during Carter's tenure. Landrieu said Carter's "leadership will be missed," but didn't bother to appoint a new crime commissioner.

  • Courtesy Audubon Nature Institute


The White Tiger

When the white tiger brothers Rex and King Zulu arrived at Audubon Zoo in 1999, they became instant superstars in the Asian Domain and a favorite of camera-toting zoo visitors. In May, Rex died at the age of 16 from complications from cancer.


Wendell Allen
The Victim

Acting on a search warrant, the NOPD raided a Gentilly home in March, looking for drugs that were supposed to be sold there. Allen, 20, heard the noise and walked out of his bedroom, whereupon Officer Joshua Colclough opened fire and killed the unarmed Allen. In August., Colclough was expected to take a plea deal for negligent homicide, which would have carried a maximum five-year sentence. But he changed his mind, and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro charged him with manslaughter, which could carry a penalty of as much as 40 years in prison. Colclough has entered a not guilty plea and is in the midst of pretrial hearings at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

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Brian Downing
The Teabagger

In January, a cellphone video of an Alabama football fan rubbing his testicles on the head of a passed-out LSU fan in the Krystal Burger on Bourbon Street after the BCS championship game quickly went viral. It earned Brian Downing the nickname "The Alabama Teabagger" and left local media wondering how to report the story, or how much footage to show. People were disgusted — but was what Downing did a legitimate sexual assault or a drunken, frat-style Jackass-esque prank? DA Leon Cannizzaro made it clear where he stood on the matter, charging Downing with sexual battery — a charge which could carry 10 years in prison and require Downing to register as a sexual offender. Was that too harsh a punishment for the crime? Again, people were split. Just as his October trial was to begin, Downing took a proffered deal, and on Nov. 29, Criminal Court Judge Karen Herman sentenced him to two years in prison, calling him a "bully."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JENNY BAGERT


Terence Blanchard
The Composer

One of New Orleans' most dazzling composers had a banner year, starting with his music for Red Tails, a film drama about the Tuskegee Airmen; moving to Broadway with his evocative score for the first African-American production of A Streetcar Named Desire; and finishing up in St. Louis, where he's working on Champion, an opera about the mid-century boxer Emile Griffith. Champion is scheduled to debut in June 2013.


New Orleans Hornets
The Hoops Dreamers

It's been a disastrous year for the Bees so far, landing them at the bottom of the Western Conference. If one thing epitomized the Hornets' troubles, it was Eric Gordon. After six months with the team, the former Los Angeles Clipper signed a deal sheet with the Phoenix Suns and made it clear he wanted to leave. The Hornets matched the offer in July to keep the recalcitrant player, and shortly thereafter Gordon developed a knee injury that kept him off the court for much of the season. Debate swirled over whether it was a real injury, but whatever the case it certainly hobbled the 2012 prospects for the Hornets. On the positive side: The team's home, the New Orleans Arena, got a spiff-up that included video screens on the outside of the building, and new owner Tom Benson has made it clear he intends to rename and rebrand the Hornets with something more New Orleans. But the name most often mentioned — the Pelicans — had both supporters and fierce detractors.


James Gray
The New Councilman

Gray, an attorney, was the lesser-known candidate in the City Council District E race against state Rep. Austin Badon. He finished a distant second in the primary. But Gray garnered some heavy-duty endorsements, including those of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Sheriff Marlin Gusman and former District E Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis. Gray also fought off questions of residency (a judge agreed that he was domiciled in District E) to beat Badon in the December runoff.


Bob French
The Drummer

The legendary drummer of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band — and WWOZ-FM DJ — was an outspoken and irascible influence on generations of younger musicians. Even late in life, he was performing regularly at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon Street. French died in November at 74 after a long illness.


Jon Johnson
The Guilty

Back in July, the councilman from District E abruptly pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to convert federal funds and to file a false statement with a government agency," stepping down from the council as he did so. The longtime 9th Ward pol admitted to using FEMA funds to prop up his 2007 campaign for the state Senate. At his November sentencing, he begged for leniency, citing his daughter's young age and his wife's recent death. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk sentenced him to six months and the repayment of more than $80,000 in fines and restitution — and told him that he, not the court, placed his daughter in a precarious position


James Carville & Mary Matalin
The Pundits

The political couple, who moved to town in 2008, continued to promote New Orleans across the country when he wasn't teaching political science at Tulane University and she wasn't serving on local boards. This year, they were busy as co-chairs of Super Bowl XLVII — and they even managed to find time to star in a New Orleans-themed air-conditioning commercial.


Anthony Davis
The Brow

The unibrowed basketball phenom became the center for — and the center of — the New Orleans Hornets' rebuilding strategy when he joined the team this year. Davis received a slew of awards in 2012, and was a member of the U.S. men's basketball team that won a gold medal at the London Olympics.


click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Benh Zeitlin
The Filmmaker

The Bywater-by-way-of-New York director's first full-length feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, earned him rave reviews and won top prizes at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. In late November, Zeitlin was nominated for Best Director at the Independent Spirit Awards, but shut out at the Golden Globes nominations. Will the Oscars come calling for Zeitlin? We'll find out Jan. 10.


Ray Nagin
The Pursued

Well, hello, Public Official A. As the year wound to a close, all eyes were on the federal courthouse downtown, where an indictment of the former mayor is said to be imminent. About a half-dozen former associates of his former honor have already pleaded guilty to a variety of charges — some of which include paying bribes to "Public Official A" at City Hall to influence the award of public contracts — and all are expected to cooperate with the feds in a case against Nagin. Some say the clock is ticking as the five-year statute of limitations approaches, but if the feds pursue a RICO (racketeering) case against Nagin, the deadline is still years away.


Tyrann Mathieu
The Troubled

The St. Aug grad and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist hit rough waters this year. In August, Louisiana State University discharged its star cornerback for what was believed to be drug test failures. Mathieu entered a rehab program in Houston soon after, but returned to the school less than a month later — a move college football watchers thought unwise. In October, Baton Rouge police arrested the Honey Badger for pot possession. One month later, Mathieu announced he was done with college and declared his eligibility for next April's NFL draft.

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Karen Carter Peterson
The Party Boss

The New Orleans-born state senator solidified her power in Baton Rouge in April when she beat out Buddy Leach to become the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party — the first woman to hold that position. Peterson inherited a party that couldn't even mount a challenge to Gov. Bobby Jindal in the last election. Predictably, she cleaned house — but it's too soon to know if Peterson's Democratic party can rally on a statewide level. Back in the Legislature, in June, she was the sole "no" vote in the state Senate on a symbolic resolution asking the NFL to reconsider the New Orleans Saints' bounty punishment.

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