Best Of 2014

We were brought to tears for minutes — nay, hours — by Mitch Albom's 'get off my lawn'-ish ode to the Beatles and why he believes they're Still the Greatest Band Ever in a Freep Sunday package in February. Albom's piece was antagonistic, really playing to his audience — which is more hip-replacement than hippie. But then Freep columnist Rochelle Riley doubled down on the newspaper's Beatles commentary the very next day, in a piece titled 'Why I love the Beatles.' Riley offered a personal anecdote on the moment she realized she fell for John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who wrote songs 'that make you feel something.' That may not mean much of anything, but it was like a Lennon-McCartney tune compared to how Albom's piece made us feel — like we wanted to die.

Tom Wilson's glib summary of the new arena as a 'once-in-a-generation' deal for the city of Detroit pushed us over the cliff. First, the so-called 'catalyst development' required the City Council to extend the boundaries of the Detroit Downtown Development Authority to accommodate Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch's dream, in the process diverting a heck of a lot of potential property tax revenue away from the city's general fund. Second, it required the state to bend over backward to ensure Ilitch received nearly $261 million in public tax dollars to make the deal happen. So while we get that Wilson meant what he said as praise, perhaps Detroit has seen this kind of deal before — when we taxpayers helped subsidize Comerica Park not too long ago. Once in a generation? We should be so lucky.

Watching Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr.'s traffic stop reverberate through the mainstream media and social networking for a week was an illuminating experience. Nothing stirs the pot of Detroit politics like a public official giving cops the business. Tut-tutting commentators wanted to call Cushingberry on the carpet when he was detained by Detroit cops after a night on the town. Some called for his resignation. A profane and defiant Cushingberry stood his ground, and we think he was within his rights to do so. That said, Cushingberry shouldn't be let off the hook entirely. There are solid reasons to doubt the man's probity as a politician. But these same news organizations who chastised him over a relatively trifling matter did not exactly tire themselves out reporting on Cush's past dealings in the run-up to an important election, did they? They have not yet uncovered any evidence of him misusing his office yet, have they? Perhaps Cush should cool it, but maybe Detroit's news media should do a bit less shaming and a little more reporting. Will they?

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson pissed off everyone from Detroit to Native American tribes in northern Michigan when a New Yorker magazine profile on the 75-year-old surfaced with some rather unpleasant remarks about Detroit. We gave Patterson some heat over the offensive quotes, but, occasionally, the county exec dishes a quip of note. For instance, we enjoyed the line he gave to The Oakland Press during the Detroit mayoral recount circus that took place last fall. When the votes went to Wayne County to be certified, the count swung 25,000 votes in the opposite direction for winner Mike Duggan, after the Board of Canvassers relented about invalidating thousands of write-in votes for, seemingly, no reason. Patterson — who, despite his chauvinist attitudes, possesses salty good humor — seized the moment and delivered a line worth remembering, one that has since been lost in the fray.

We chose this in our staff picks last year, and feel it's worth the ink again. The nearly $2 billion project would see I-94 widened one lane in each direction between Conner Avenue and I-96, and would involve demolitions, the removal of several pedestrian and vehicular bridges, and may only cause more congestion when completed. Now, we wouldn't mind seeing the planned maintenance work take place, but why make the freeway bigger? We dug State. Rep. Jim Townsend's remarks to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments last year when he said the plan seemed like it was something out of the 1950s. It really does: At a time when the region seems to be pining for an effective regional public transportation system, why such outdated priorities? Save some money; those folks trying to get from St. Clair Shores to Dearborn will be just fine without a few minutes shaved off their commute — if this project can accomplish even that.

Perhaps no politician has won local newsies' hearts like Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. In truth, the media coronation of Duggan seemed to begin before he even threw his hat in the ring. It makes sense, in a way: The thought of a white guy winning the Detroit mayoralty would be great for banner headlines and historic newscasts. They've adored him ever since he won. But it was Riley's column following Duggan's State of the City that took the cake: The piece dripped with fawning optimism and waxed lyrical over a man whose mayoral powers were dramatically curtailed by an emergency manager, and who had only hung his hat in City Hall for seven weeks! But Riley raved, 'Without a teleprompter or prepared speech, he did what he did more than 200 times while running for office: He talked to people from his heart about their dream. ... Duggan wasn't Dave Bing, tentative, stilted. He wasn't Kwame Kilpatrick, arrogant, overly bold. Duggan was that guy, the one most companies have who gets the call to fix what no one else can. Sometimes, he's Joe. Sometimes, he's Bill. Or sometimes, he's Mike.' Come on. We're happy Big Mike is bringing such enthusiasm to the job he won, but give him a chance to run something other than his mouth before we shout 'Hallelujah!'

Rogers, the U.S. Representative for Michigan's 8th District since 2001, recently announced he'd be stepping aside to take a job in talk radio. The guy, whom the indefatigable Charles Pierce recently suggested is from 'Spookyville,' has basically spent the last few years grooming himself for a high-prized spot as a terror-fighting security-stater. Michigan's Captain America, Rogers has freaked out about revelations from Edward Snowden's leaks on the National Security Agency, and talks smack of journalists who publish such documents. This is probably because Rogers doesn't enjoy the idea of journalists, whose job is to investigate government, discovering the awful truth from high-profile whistleblowers. Rogers apparently believes he can have the most impact on shaping public dialogue as a talk radio host, and, at 50 years old, it's a fair guess he's priming himself for a run at higher office; that was the suggestion of a weekend TV news anchor. Rogers didn't play down the idea, saying, 'I'm going to take it where it goes.' Whatever. As long as Professor Spooks is away from politics for a few years, that's fine by us.

You'd think the way Detroit (sort of) overreacted to the opening of a Whole Foods that we'd calm our nerves a bit about Midtown's new glitz. Perhaps not: When watchmaker Shinola, one of Detroit's biggest business success stories in the past year, declared that the company would install a handful of street clocks for Detroit as a gift, the media went bananas. But the shouts of joy turned to groans of shame after just one day because some amateur taggers spray-painted the Shinola clock at Canfield and Cass. The audacity! It gave outsiders an opportunity to sneer, again, at Detroit — that, of course, the clock would get tagged immediately. Some suburban commenters joyously crowed, 'We told you so!' In truth, however, this sort of thing happens everywhere: Boneheaded, untalented hacks spray-paint something irrelevant across something all the time. Even Shinola's CEO understood how boring this non-story was, telling The Detroit News: 'I don't think it was a big deal. It's just some graffiti. I'm not concerned. These things happen all over the world.' We can appreciate that worldly level-headedness from Shinola HQ. In other cities, people just rub it off and move on. We can too.

It's unfortunate that petroleum coke ('petcoke' for short), a byproduct created when tar-like bitumen from the Alberta oil sands is turned into gasoline, has crept back into local conversations. Most people believed the battle over petcoke ended last year when Detroit Bulk Storage, the company that allowed small mountains of the byproduct to be stored along the Detroit River, agreed to back down and halt the process. The company now intends to move the effort downriver, as the state's Department of Environmental Quality considers a permit from Detroit Bulk to begin storing petcoke again. That was the focal point of town hall debates near River Rouge last month. There's still very little known about the effects of petcoke, and for that reason alone, there's no reason to feel warm and fuzzy about it for the time being.

The proposal from a big-time businessman to plant an urban farm (or forest, as it turned out) on the east side drew tons of media support when John Hantz first pitched it. It was cast as an obvious choice for Detroit: The land wasn't even being used, supporters contended, so Hantz should be given a sweet deal at an insanely low cost, and right away — because, trees! Commentators hammered at City Council as a congregation of obstructionists hampering an innovative plan. Absent from this brouhaha was the merest suggestion that such a deal would benefit Hantz and his heirs immensely if, say, property values were to rise in the coming years. For now, the city can proudly point to acres of city land growing ... trees. As to whether giving large tracts of land over to the super-rich is a good idea ...