What a year it’s been in Erie. We’ve had meth, plenty of heroin, broke the murder record, almost broke the snowfall record just to have it yanked way back by some professional buzzkillers, and we’ve had plenty of local political news as well. We’ve had at least as much good news as bad, though it often comes slow and incrementally and isn’t as attention-grabbing as all the shitshows.
What follows are the 2018 Idiotville picks for stories of the year as voted on by your favorite Erie Superfriends: Dill Spears, Brent N. Liberty, Steve Castle, Jake News, and I, Ted Brogan. Enjoy!
Photo from eriebrewingco.com
State Street has always been a place where you can get blackout drunk for $10 listening to local music at Sherlock’s, get blackout drunk for $10 and dance your ass off at Revolution, or get blackout drunk for $10 and try to keep it down at the Plymouth. That isn’t new.
What’s new is the volume of local breweries popping up and expanding their operations. In 2018, Erie showed these breweries aren’t a fad – they are a worthy complement to the State Street scene.
This year, Erie Brewing Co. hit the 1-year mark at its Knowledge Park location and Lavery’s more than doubled their brewing capacity with a $290,000 expansion. Nostrovia Brewing is still working on opening up on East Lake Road, which personally as a Polak, I love. Erie Ale Works and Millcreek Brewing Co. continue to thrive and come up with new combinations. The Brewerie is getting creative. The UPick6 franchise has three successful locations.
There is a ton of variety if you’re an Erie beer drinker and if you aren’t, scroll down to “The Bad” and “The Ugly” and we’ll see if you don’t want to start.
Photo from pennlive.com
2. Prep’s 3rd straight championship
Maybe you like Prep, probably you don’t. Whatever you think of them, a third straight football state championship is awesome. They’re like the Alabama Crimson Tide of Pennsylvania high school football – an annual juggernaut that no one knows how to stop.
Photo from Waldameer.com
3. Waldameer keeps expanding
Waldameer has been going strong since 1896. Ten years ago its owner, Paul Nelson, was named Amusement Today‘s Person of the Year.
It’s easy to take for granted, but for a place the size of Erie to maintain a thriving amusement park is really incredible. In 2018, Waldameer added two new rides and announced $2 million expansion plans for 2019. Part of the 2019 plans include a bigger hot tub in Water World, probably to dilute all the piss.
Photo from trover.com
4. Bayfront redevelopment is making some progress
Everyone in Idiotville wants to be proud of our bayfront, but right now nobody is. All along the waterfront you see the industrial wasteland and it reminds you of what Erie used to be and may never be again.
Many plans have been laid to transform Erie’s bayfront and it still looks depressing, so it’s easy to be pessimistic when a new plan is unveiled. We think the late-2017 Erie Western-Pennsylvania Port Authority plan (the “Port Authority’s masters facilities and development plan“) is different.
For one thing, Nick Scott is getting involved this time and 2018 saw his Harbor Place hotel (a $20 million, eight story beauty) break ground. That’s a huge step, and without the major tax giveaways of the aforementioned convention center.
No one should think all that industrial property laid to waste was going to be spun into gold overnight. Transforming a space like this takes a long-term commitment, and 2018 was a big step in the right direction.
The south is poor! | Photo from facingsouth.org
5. Schember goes all in on these “Opportunity Zones”
This is a developing story and we’ll see what happens in 2019 and beyond, but anytime a new idea to replace some downtown blight with new development gets momentum, we’re listening.
Opportunity zones are basically an incentive for super rich folks (those who make a lot of money on capital gains) to invest their capital gains earnings in blighted areas (“opportunity zones” are poor census tracts) by offering a reduced tax rate on investments in those areas. Then, any profit made from those investments are tax free.
So this is basically a tax break for the “Masters of the Universe,” those millionaires and billionaires looking to park their fortunes in a reduced tax environment. It’s not the way we would’ve done it (a small tax break for the initial investment and tax free profits for life seems exactly backwards), but what can you expect from something born of the 2017 Trump tax cut.
None of that is Mayor Joe Schember’s fault. In Schember’s first year on the job, it looks like he is taking the lead nationwide in proving this concept’s viability. So if some people are going to bust the federal budget getting tax breaks on investments, maybe they can restore our bayfront and downtown areas while they’re at it? Stay tuned.
Who, me? | Photo from YourErie.com
6. Rick Filippi made out with a convict
Oh. My God. What in the sweet hell was he thinking? What kind of lawyer goes to visit a client in prison and ends up kissing her in the prison? Is this some kind of performance art? Does this vault him onto the Idiotville Mount Rushmore? So many questions. No answers.
Only one thing is for sure. This is bad. Bad Rick Filippi! BAD!
Photo from atimes.com
7. Erie breaks the murder record
Quick: Off the top of your head, what’s the record number of people that were murdered in Erie County in a calendar year? If you know the answer to this, you might be a future murder suspect yourself.
The answer is 19 murders. Well, at least it was until 2018. Erie saw its 20th murder in November of this year, which is a sad commentary on the state of our beloved Idiotville. All is not well.
These 20 murders included a man throwing his fiancée off the back of his boat on the bay, to a woman literally sitting on a man and suffocating him to death like you used to pretend to do as a kid.
I don’t know how to sugarcoat this. Twenty people dead at the hands of their fellow Erieites is 20 too many. There are a confluence of factors that result in something like this. Loss of jobs – check. Increase in drug addiction – check. Long-running problems in the educational system – checkmate. Let’s stick to breaking snowfall records from now on.
Photo from livescience.com
Heroin is a killer. Don’t ever try heroin. If you already have – seek help because help is out there and you need it right now.
This has gotten to the point where most people reading this article – and the person writing it – know someone who lost their life way too soon to a heroin addiction. American deaths due to drug overdoses skyrocketed in 2017 to about 70,000 before holding steady around the same number in 2018. Erie County actually saw a decrease (as of July 9, 2018 – the latest we found data) from 124 deaths to a full-year pace of 85. We’re not counting this decrease as good news – 85 is still way too many.
Awareness helps. Narcan helps (and Erieites flooded the Narcan giveaway at the Blasco Library on Dec. 13th, underscoring both the scale of the problem and the desire for help). Using with a friend is marginally better than using alone, I guess. I just don’t know how much more human potential has to be sacrificed in the name of heroin. Here’s to hoping for progress in 2019.
Former Erie Bishop Donald Trautman. | Photo from erienewsnow.com
9. Erie Catholic Priests
This year saw the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, take aim at Pennsylvania’s – and Erie’s – role in the biggest systemic child abuse scandal in modern times.
When a grand jury report surfaced in August detailing six Catholic dioceses responsible for harboring more than 300 “predator priests” that abused over 1,000 child victims, the Erie Catholic Diocese was on that list. This is just about as bad as it gets. From the grand jury report:
Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.
This is hard to think about. Keep these victims in your thoughts, because you know if a report like this lists 1,000 of them, the actual number is far higher.
Me again? | Photo from YourErie.com
10. Rick Filippi made out with a convict!
I know it’s up above in #6. It’s just so weird! Like, did he just want us to forget he tried to profit from insider info at the old International Paper plant all those years ago? That’s like covering up a wart on your nose with a Rudolph light bulb.
I’d like to say this is Filippi’s rock bottom, but who knows what 2019 holds for this guy.
Photo from weather.com
11. Erie gets – and loses – some snow records
You all remember where you were on Christmas 2017. You remember the forecast calling for several feet of snow and thinking, maybe they’ll be wrong. They weren’t.
Things like letting your dog out to relieve himself became impossible. Shoveling your driveway took half the day, or maybe you gave up realizing it was piling up faster than you could shovel it. You couldn’t see your mailbox, either because the visibility through the snow was 10 feet or because it was buried, or maybe a stray car ran it over. We were the lead story on Today and GMA. Memes were made.
When the dust settled, the news said we’d had 50.8 inches of snow fall on our heads, and we believed it because (1) it felt more like 100, and (2) who on Earth could measure snow down to the tenth of an inch and be off by a foot and a half? Throughout the 2017-2018 winter we kept getting pounded, breaking the Pennsylvania single-day and month-long snowfall records.
Then, in August, some jerks from the National Weather Service reviewed the way all that snow was measured. Turns out, there are “standards” that weren’t necessarily met. Mistakes were made. That 50.8″ turned into 32.6″. The 198.5″ winter total was reduced to 166.3″.
It’s hard to explain just how much of a gut punch that felt like unless you lived through that winter. I experienced that damn snow. My snowblower didn’t make it through the winter. My back screamed at me for three months. It felt like I was stuck on a different planet, and the reward I got – the reward we all got – was a crappy line in a Pennsylvania record book that probably doesn’t exist anyway.
But it was something. These eggheads were just coming in here saying we measured it wrong?! No!
Photo from Netflix.com
12. Evil Genius – Pizza Bomber case gets a new documentary
Did you watch the four-part Netflix documentary about Erie’s weirdest murder? If not, it’s absolutely eye-opening to go through all this again 15 years later. The documentary is extremely well done and even connects a few dots law enforcement hadn’t.
That’s sort of the problem here, though. We are huge believers in the mission of law enforcement around here as well as the job most of these fine men and women do, but neither the Erie Police Dept., the PA State Police, nor the FBI come off smelling like roses in this documentary.
For example, when the police question William Rothstein – a man living within shouting distance of the cell tower where the collar bomb was placed on victim Brian Wells – after Rothstein notified them he had a dead body in his freezer, nobody noticed Rothstein also owned the suspicious blue Astro van. The same van police saw suspiciously backing away from the vacant cell tower on the day of the murder, right after that pizza was ordered to the cell tower.
The documentary also sheds some light on the seedy cocaine and prostitution markets around here, both of which played a role in the pizza bomber plot and both of which are way more prevalent than I’d like to believe.
More than anything, Evil Genius was an unsettling reminder of just what type of weirdness can exist in the shadows around here. You could’ve been in the grocery line next to a dude with a body in his freezer, or a cocaine salesman that housed a prostitute’s trysts and volunteered some poor pizza delivery man to the strangest death ever. Maybe the evil stars of this story deserve their own, special Idiotville Mount Rushmore.
Whether it was good, bad, or ugly, Idiotville had plenty going on in 2018. We hope you enjoyed our take on what the big stories of the year were and what they meant to our beloved town.
Finally, whether you listen to the Idiotville podcast, read the blog, or just click it and forget it, we are grateful for your support. From Dill, Brent, Steve, Jake, and Ted, we wish all you idiots a healthy and happy 2019.