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Weather, Homeless Mom Top Norwalk News in 2011

NORWALK, Conn. – Times are strange, many people agree: the worst economic times since the Great Depression linger on and weird weather persists. But what are the top stories of this, the second year of the second decade in the 21st century? Nationally it might be easy to come up with a list – the death of Osama bin Laden would likely be No. 1 – but what do you think were the most important stories in Norwalk? Snow? The hurricane? The election?

After pondering we came up with a list. See if you agree:

Weird weather and the resultant power outages: The snowiest winter in decades taxed Norwalkers resources and patience early this year, with mountains of snow along the sides of roads making it difficult to see oncoming traffic in spots. That was unbelievably followed in late August by Hurricane Irene. Only a tropical storm when it came ashore, Irene still packed a punch, knocking down trees all over Norwalk and sending thousands of people into a power outage that lasted a week for some. Then, in October, an unseasonably early snowstorm accomplished the same feat and disrupted Halloween to boot.

Tanya McDowell: The Norwalk Police Department's arrest of an allegedly homeless mother in April for enrolling her 5-year-old son in Brookside Elementary School by using a friend's Roodner Court address attracted national attention and eventually brought Al Sharpton to a political rally here. McDowell was arrested again in June on multiple drug charges after an undercover Norwalk Police investigation, and media attention died down. Although Attorney Darnell Crosland was successful in getting her bond reduced, she is still being held in York Correctional Institute in Niantic as her court case moves slowly forward.

Crime: Stats compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Norwalk Police Department show that violent crime in Norwalk is down , but horrific actions still draw headlines:

? In August, two people were found dead in a car parked awkwardly on Avenue B, a quiet neighborhood between Scribner and Taylor avenues. Police say Iroquois Alston, 27, and Rickita Smalls, 22, died of gunshot wounds. There have been no arrests.

? A 5-month-old baby was taken to Norwalk Hospital in September with severe injuries, what Lt. Ashley Gonzalez described as "one of the worst (cases) I've seen in my 23 years of service." Both of her parents – Jamie Lane, 22, of 5 Avenue E and Paul Nikolis, 27 , of no known address – have been arrested and charged with first-degree assault to a minor and risk of injury to a minor, both felonies.

? A Norwalk man was arrested in November in connection with the death of his 3-month-old daughter, who police say suffered a severe head injury while under his care. Justin Smith, 28, of 8 Highland Court was charged with first-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor.

Earthquake: Many Norwalkers were surprised to feel the earth shake beneath them in August. "I thought I was going nuts," said Joey Hoyt, who had been sitting in a trailer behind the Sunoco Station at 336 Main Ave. "I felt it shake and I saw the mirrors on the truck shaking." The epicenter of the Aug. 13 5.8 magnitude quake was in Virginia, 84 miles southwest of Washington D.C., but the shaking was felt as far north as Maine.

The election: Mayor Richard Moccia won a fourth term in a narrow victory over former town clerk Andy Garfunkel, and Democrats took back leadership of the Common Council. Embattled Republican Jack Chiaramonte retained leadership of the Board of Education.

Development moves ahead: After years of delay, all three of Norwalk's major redevelopment projects held groundbreakings this fall:

? In September, POKO Partners and IWSR Developers applied for a demolition permit of the old Merchants Bank building, located at 61-65 Wall St., part of the 6.3-acre redevelopment site where Wall Street Place has been planned since 2005. "I don't think I have ever been as excited as I am for a demolition," State Sen. Bob Duff said.

? Spinnaker Partners received the city's approval for a site modification on the 95/7 project in August. Officials met with Spinnaker representatives in October for a groundbreaking.

? Seligson Properties partnered with Bellpoint Capital to recapitalize its Waypointe project. Demolition is now under way in Phase 1, bordered by West Avenue, Merwin Street and Orchard Street.

Norwalk's new schools superintendent announces she may take leave: Rumors swirled in September that Superintendent Susan Marks might be leaving the district, in the wake of a tough struggle over Norwalk's school budget. Marks announced that she was considering taking a leave of absence, but rumors continued. Marks has not taken a leave and has just announced her proposed budget for 2012/2013.

Norwalk High School football team thrills fans: The Bears and first-year head coach Sean Ireland clinched their first state playoff berth since 1998, making it to the semifinal before being defeated in the Class LL semifinals by No. 1 seed Xavier. "We're the first team from Norwalk High to win a playoff game,'' quarterback Delshawn Wilson said. "There's going to be a lot of good memories."

Paving: Nearly 50 roads were paved in Norwalk last summer in a $6.7 million project that involved three companies.

Road projects were completed: After a year's worth of traffic delays, the widening of West Avenue was completed in November. The project included enhancements of the I-95/Route 7 entrance. East Rocks Road was also reopened in November, after being closed since March 2009 so the bridge over the Merritt Parkway could be substantially rebuilt.

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