Year in Review 2011: From a blizzard to Bin Laden

Marshall Cohen, City Editor

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As 2012 begins and the New Year’s celebrations settle down, The Daily took a moment to reflect on the year that was 2011. Here is a look back at the monumental events from last year that changed Northwestern, Evanston, Chicago, the United States and the world.

“The Worst Blizzard We’ve Ever Had”

Evanston mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl chose those words to describe the record-breaking February storm that dumped 20 inches of snow in Chicagoland — easily becoming one of the region’s worst blizzards of all time.

Northwestern canceled all classes Feb. 2 and shut down its campuses in both Evanston and Chicago. The University’s decision testified to the severity of the “Snowpocalypse” — NU has endured many harsh winters but has not canceled classes since 1979.

While dozens of students gathered at Deering Field for a Facebook-organized snowball fight, more than 900 cars and buses were abandoned on Lake Shore Drive after the highway was temporarily shut down. More than 1,300 flights were cancelled at O’Hare and Midway International airports, according to a Feb. 1 Chicago Sun-Times article.

The historic storm also brought 70-mph winds and 25-foot waves, as well as $1.8 billion in damage spread across 16 different states from Texas to Connecticut, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

Revolutions, Protests Sweep Arab World

The Tunisian Revolution came first. A month of unprecedented protests in January forced 23-year Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to seek exile in Saudi Arabia. After millions of Egyptian protesters took to the streets for 18 days in February, 30-year ruler Hosni Mubarak relinquished power to the military.

A prolonged civil war emerged in Libya starting in late February. Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya since 1977, fought against a disorganized alliance of Libyan rebels.

The conflict attracted the United Nations, NATO and U.S. intervention, leading to the fall of Tripoli in August. Gaddafi himself was captured and killed by rebels near Sirte in October.

During the ongoing Yemeni uprising, 21-year President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand over power in November after a June assassination attempt forced him to leave the country for medical treatment. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad sent tanks into rebellious towns, killing more than 5,000 civilians, according to a recent U.N. estimate.

Protests occurred in a dozen other Arab nations, and the movement influenced protests in Iran, China, Russia and even the United States.

Chicago Chooses a New Mayor

On Sept. 7, 2010, then-mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek a seventh term as mayor of Chicago. The bombshell rattled the Chicago political scene and kicked off a five-month sprint to the February election.

Chicago native Rahm Emanuel soon resigned as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and pursued the vacant office. He entered a crowded early field that included former Daley chief of staff Gery Chico, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, state Sen. James Meeks and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.

Although Emanuel quickly emerged as the frontrunner, there were plenty of distractions along the way, including a drawn-out legal battle that temporarily booted Emanuel from the ballot due to residency issues before the Illinois Supreme Court intervened. A fake Twitter account called @MayorEmanuel attracted the attention of the media and even the candidate himself with its expletive-laced tweets and phony tales from the campaign trail.

When the Feb. 22 election finally arrived, Emanuel captured 55 percent of the vote, beating the five other candidates and avoiding a runoff. He was inaugurated on May 16.

“Human Sex” Class Demonstration Gone Wrong

Northwestern got caught up in an X-rated controversy that attracted international media attention in early March when an after-class session for Prof. John Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class featured a woman being penetrated by a motorized sex toy.

The session was optional, and students were warned five to 10 times about the graphic nature of the presentation, but that didn’t stop national media outlets like The New York Times, MSNBC, CNN Headline News and even London-based The Guardian from covering the spectacle.

The University launched an investigation and announced in May that the class, which regularly attracted more than 600 students, would not be offered in the next academic year. The class had been taught since 1994.

Dance Marathon’s Million-Dollar Haul

Dance Marathon raised a record $1,019,130 last year, bringing in seven figures for the first time in its 37-year history. The March event also saw a record number of participants, with more than 900 students dancing outside Norris University Center.

DM organizers deemed the annual philanthropic event a success, announcing more than $630,000 would be donated to The Children’s Heart Foundation.

“I don’t know if everyone realizes the impact it will have for decades to come,” said Megan Van Pelt, the research foundation’s national president, at the event.

However, the 30-hour marathon was temporarily hindered by strong winds and poor weather conditions that threatened the safety of its tent outside Norris, causing delays to the fourth and seventh dancing blocks.

“Justice Done” as Bin Laden is Killed

After 10 years on the run, al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1 during a secret operation conducted by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda’s terror: justice has been done,” President Barack Obama said during the late-night press conference where he announced the terrorist leader’s death to the world.

Impromptu celebrations broke out in front of the White House and in cities and college campuses across the country — including Northwestern, where around 100 people gathered outside the Rock and paraded through the University Library with American flags.

After several years of intense preparations, 23 members of SEAL Team Six raided the compound where they believed bin Laden was hiding during the early morning of May 2. When they encountered the most-wanted terrorist and several of his family members inside the sprawling compound, bin Laden refused to surrender and was shot in the head.

Blagojevich Finally Convicted, Sentenced

After jurors deadlocked in his 2010 corruption trial, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was tried again last year for attempted extortion, soliciting bribes, wire fraud and criminal conspiracy. The retrial jury returned with guilty verdicts for 17 of the 20 counts against Blagojevich on June 27.

“I, frankly, am stunned,” he said after leaving the courtroom a convicted criminal.

The disgraced governor ultimately admitted his guilt and accepted sole responsibility for his crimes in a last-ditch attempt to receive a lighter punishment. Federal Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison, and he will report to the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in Littleton, Colo., on March 15, 2012.

Casey Anthony Fixates a Nation

The trial of Florida mom Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, captivated the American public during the summer of 2011.

Americans diligently followed the live stream of court proceedings, either on cable television or online, for six weeks from May to July. TIME Magazine called it the “social media trial of the century” as websites like Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with constant updates and immediate reactions.

Although circumstantial evidence pointed to Anthony’s guilt — and seemed to convince the vast majority of Americans and legal pundits beyond a reasonable doubt — the jury found her not guilty of murder, child abuse and the lesser manslaughter charge. She was, however, convicted of lying to police, given credit for time served and walked free on July 17 after spending less than two weeks in jail.

Evanston Decriminalizes Marijuana

All nine aldermen on the Evanston City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 28 to decriminalize possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, easing penalties for the Schedule I drug as part of what proponents called a “nationwide trend.”

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl proposed the ordinance in October, stating the change was meant to help young residents get jobs later in life. After its passage, people caught with less than 10 grams of cannabis will be ticketed but will not establish a criminal record.

Under the old law, anyone found to possess between 2.5 and 10 grams of marijuana could be ticketed, fined up to $1,500 and jailed for up to six months.