Newsday Westchester's top 10 stories tell of a bridge, budget cuts, deadly violence

The past year was one of milestones and

The past year was one of milestones and tragedies for the Hudson Valley. Plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge moved forward, the region was rocked by superstorm Sandy and Kerry Kennedy made headlines. (Credit: NYNewbridge.com/Angela Gaul/Rory Glaeseman)

The year began tamely and ended in a storm of death and anguish.

As the final month of 2012 draws to a close, the nation mourns the 20 schoolchildren and seven adults massacred in Newtown, Conn. Their violent deaths at the hands of gunman Adam Lanza came just as the metropolitan area was digging out from superstorm Sandy, which took both lives and livelihoods as it destroyed businesses and homes throughout the Northeast.

Before those twin blows, the beginning of year was downright boring.


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Looking back, uncertainty is the reigning emotion among Newsday reporters asked to pick the top 10 stories of 2012. But the headlines, gathered from our news and entertainment staff, collectively point to the Hudson Valley's opportunity to take on major challenges.

Education, security and gun control

Students, teachers and parents throughout the Hudson Valley are still reeling from the Dec. 14 tragedy that left 28 dead, including Lanza and his mother. On Monday, Dec. 17, local schools opened at heightened alert, with tightened security and much soul-searching about gun control.

Sandy recovery

As Democrats push for a $60.4 billion emergency spending package, superstorm Sandy victims continue to try to cope. In the Hudson Valley, Sandy wreaked the most havoc in Westchester County, which endured the worst power outage in Con Edison's history, and Rockland County, where more than 70 percent of residents along the Hudson River towns of Stony Point and Piermont went without power for up to two weeks.

Transportation

More answers are expected soon in what has been the region's single biggest question mark for most of 2012: the new Tappan Zee Bridge. On Dec. 17, the State Thruway Authority finally voted to choose Tappan Zee Constructors as the builder of a new $3.1 billion double span that will replace the existing 57-year-old bridge. The winning bid is expected to create thousands of new jobs and shave $5 to $7 off future tolls that were originally estimated in the $14 range. Gov. Andrew Cuomo still has not announced how he will pay for the project, and residents who live at the Westchester and Rockland ends of the bridge have been fighting for remediation against the construction impact during the next five years.

Environment

The controversy over keeping the aging Indian Point's nuclear reactors going for 20 more years heated up in 2012. During a series of federal hearings in October and December in Tarrytown, challenges to the relicensing were aired by the plant's primary opponents: the state attorney general's office and two local environmental groups, Riverkeeper of Ossining and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater of Beacon. No decisions were made and more hearings are expected in early 2013. Meanwhile, the New York Public Service Commission has set a Feb. 1 deadline for Con Edison and the New York Power Authority to prepare contingency plans in case of a shutdown.

Business

With a pending "fiscal cliff," county budget cuts and municipal belt tightening, the ramping up of Ridge Hill as a lower Westchester County destination offered a rare bright spot. Barely a year old, the $842 million outdoor shopping center now boasts some three dozen retailers, including an Apple Store, half a dozen eateries and four anchor tenants: a multiplex, Dick's Sport Goods, Whole Foods and Lord & Taylor. Officials say it is expected to generate $24.2 million in sales tax once fully occupied by 2014. In behind-the-scenes intrigue, former City Council member Sandy Annabi was sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes in exchange for voting in favor of building the Ridge Hill project.

National politics

Hudson Valley Democrats fared well in 2012. In November, Democratic challenger Sean Mahoney defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth. And the national media openly speculated about whether Chappaqua's Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for president in 2016 after her widely praised four years as secretary of state. That led to even more speculation about whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Mount Kisco resident who enjoyed a popularity rating of around 70 percent for most of the year, might need to wait before his much-anticipated run for the White House.

State politics

In Albany, the Hudson Valley contingent found success, too. Democrats picked up two state Senate seats -- knocking one incumbent out of office -- and an Assembly seat in Albany. A group of so-called "independent Democrats," including two Hudson Valley lawmakers, sided with Republicans to elect a GOP member as president of the upper chamber. Who will now lead the Senate's Democratic minority? Our own Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

County politics

The big event in Westchester County government occurred when two Democrats broke from their party and joined Republican County Executive Rob Astorino to approve a $1.7 billion budget. That gave Astorino an opportunity to tout his bipartisan credentials and skills in compromising just in time for 2013, when he is expected to run for re-election.

Crime

In December, Mount Vernon police captured Lucius Crawford, an alleged serial killer who might have been the scariest criminal to emerge in the Hudson Valley in 2012. Crawford admitted to stabbing a woman to death in the city, though his mental health could cast doubt on his confession. He also confessed to killing two Yonkers women in the early 1990s and, nearly 40 years ago, went on a rampage and stabbed five women in South Carolina.

The Kennedys

The Hudson Valley scions of former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy garnered sad headlines throughout 2012. Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of RFK Jr., committed suicide. RFK's daughter and the former wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Kerry Kennedy, got into an accident on Interstate 684. Police later found sleep drugs in her blood. And Douglas Kennedy, another son of RFK, was accused of assaulting two nurses who didn't want him to take his newborn baby out of the hospital for fresh air. Luckily for him, he was acquitted.

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