2012, the Massachusetts year in review

Political ambitions, business flops, love affairs, and one wicked set of biceps.

Photo-illustration by Greg Mees; Photographs: Warren by Michael Dwyer; Brown by John Wilcox; Obama by Hunter Thompson; Valentine by Adam Hunger; Summer by John McConnico; Romney by Win McNamee; Petraeus and Broadwell by Associated Press; Wally by Jim McIsaac; Ismail by Stephan Savoia; Tyler by Charles Sykes; photo illustration by Greg Mees

WE HERE IN THE GREAT COMMONWEALTH of Massachusetts are certain that we occupy prime real estate at the center of the universe. (How else to explain our property valuations?) Our ears burn Sox Nation red, Blue State blue, and Harvard crimson when the rest of the country says it isn’t so. Well, this year it was.

In 2012, we nearly exported a former governor to the White House (who had signed into law the state health care system that we had already successfully exported). We celebrated the oldest active ballpark in Major League Baseball, even as we jeered the most dysfunctional team in recent memory to play on its field. We rekindled interest in the largest art heist in history. We told you that Jesus might have had a wife, and we put an end to the miraculous run of a football star who made piety a nationwide craze. Our scandals and successes, our tragedies and triumphs, even our babies — welcome, Vivian (Bundchen) Brady — made national headlines. And if you still don’t believe us, we also grew the biggest biceps, and we weren’t afraid to flex them.

For better and for worse, this year Massachusetts really did have it all.


It was a sign of things to come when Mitt Romney, who could have justifiably chosen among four other states for his political headquarters, selected the most Boston of neighborhoods, the North End. He kept talking about us throughout his run for the presidency, vowing to repeal the national health care law inspired by the one he approved for the state and opposing same-sex marriages, which became law while he was governor. A Romney aide inadvertently coined the first buzzwords of the general election race — Etch a Sketch — and the candidate was caught uttering the words — “47 percent” — that will go down in electoral history as one of the most game-changing ratios ever spoken. We ate up every word of it and then turned out in record numbers to hand Romney a 23-point trouncing in his own state.

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Our US Senate race, much closer than expected, was one of the most closely watched — and most expensive — in the country. The challenger, Elizabeth Warren, vowed to give her all for the little guy against “big oil, millionaires, and billionaires.”  But she got in trouble when her claim of Native American heritage turned out to be only about 1/32d true. The incumbent, Scott Brown, promised to be more bipartisan than anyone. But then he found himself backtracking when he boasted that he was reaching across the aisle on a regular basis to the president, the State Department, diplomats, kings, and queens. A Massachusetts native loomed large in the race: Grover Norquist, whose pledge not to raise taxes Brown signed. Warren said she would not sign, and she won.

Governor Deval Patrick campaigned for President Obama like a man auditioning for a 2016 run for the White House, but ended the year defending missteps in his own house. Because a state chemist allegedly falsified drug test results, tens of thousands of convictions will need to be retried, which could cost us $332 million — or something close to the price of a one-way commuter rail trip in from Worcester after a massive fare hike was implemented. The state highway safety director resigned after the Globe reported that her experience in the field amounted to a long history of unsafe driving. Lax state oversight may have contributed to a meningitis outbreak linked to a Framingham pharmacy that has killed more than 30 people across the country and sickened more than 400. And a registered sex offender was arrested and charged with 100 counts of sexual abuse of children in his care, some as young as 8 days old.

Massachusetts also had a hand in a far less tragic and disturbing disgrace that nevertheless made waves from here to Kandahar. Former CIA director David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell may have carried on their affair in Afghanistan and Washington, but they first locked eyes in that steamy crimson-walled hotbed of sex scandals, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It was April 2006; he was a 53-year-old three-star general and she was a 33-year-old graduate student looking for help on a research project. Theirs was a match made in TMZheaven.

Not everything that came from Harvard was pure tabloid fodder. Normally news of a Nobel Prize would be enough to define a year for a college, but economist Alvin Roth’s award (hey, congrats!) was overshadowed by, well, Jesus. Harvard researcher Karen L. King shook the Christian world by finding a papyrus fragment she said suggested that Jesus had once been married. (King did not say whether Jesus monopolized the TV remote control or whether his wife made him watch The Notebook.) Alas, the Vatican quickly denounced the document as “a clumsy forgery.”


It was not the Commonwealth’s only big-time encounter with religion: Our NFL team put a decisive end to the playoff crusade of Tim Tebow, a quarterback whose last name became a verb that means “to kneel and pray’’ — thus making him the first devout Christian in the faith’s 2,000-year history to be afforded such an honor.

As sports fans learned, however, Massachusetts taketh away and Massachusetts giveth. Those same New England Patriots added to the laurels of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who defeated them in a heroic last-minute Super Bowl performance for the second time in four years. And the Boston Celtics fell to the Miami Heat in the NBA semifinals, ending the era of the new Big Three.

The Green also helped crown Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year LeBron James. You’re welcome, King James.

Then there were the Red Sox, who added to a historic collapse in 2011 by finishing with their worst season in 47 years while maintaining a sellout streak that looked more hollow by the day. The team’s ineptitude prompted owners to make a mega deal that sent $275 million in payroll to the Los Angeles Dodgers, an amount greater than the gross domestic product of 15 nations.

The expensive turmoil surrounding the Sox — ending with the firing of the dysfunctionalist in chief, manager Bobby Valentine — did not dim the celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary. And that was not the only milestone event of 2012. The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 saw the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, make a rare sail. Prominent conductor Benjamin Zander, he of the wild silver hair, fired by the New England Conservatory over his hiring a registered sex offender to film concerts and rehearsals, was back on stage as conductor of the newly formed Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Meanwhile, Aerosmith launched a new album, the group’s 15th, and rocked their hometown fans with a free street concert in front of the Allston apartment where they lived in the 1870s (whoops, 1970s).


Aerosmith is still with us, but the state did mourn the passing of several larger-than-life figures: Dr. Joseph E. Murray, who performed the first successful organ transplant; Johnny Pesky, for generations the heart and soul of the Red Sox; Carl Beane, for nearly a decade the voice of Fenway Park; Donna Summer, legendary disco queen; former Globe reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Shadid; onetime Boston University president John R. Silber, who brought the school to national prominence; and Kevin Hagan White, the former mayor who sought to transform Boston into a world-class city.

The opening of a new wing along with dramatic restorations transformed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but the bigger stir at the site of the greatest art theft in history was news that a Connecticut mobster might have information about the heist (he said he did not).

Boston’s most notorious gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, now incarcerated after an international manhunt, continued to make news, with his poor health and his attempts to declare himself immune from prosecution. Another local legend associated with more positive deeds appeared headed for court: former Sox hero Curt Schilling, who left Rhode Island holding the bag for $75 million in loans it had guaranteed for his video game company, which went bankrupt. How grave was the ignominy? At one point it appeared that Schilling would be forced to sell the blood-stained sock he wore during his most famous victory.

The tiniest state did score one big success at our expense, when a pumpkin grown by a Rhode Island man weighed in at 2,009 pounds at the Topsfield Fair, the first such gourd to break the ton barrier. Massachusetts struck back when Guinness declared the biceps of a Franklin man, Moustafa Ismail, the world’s biggest.

Speaking of big guns, one of the biggest of the business world, Inc., set up shop here. We gave them a big Commonwealth welcome by telling them to charge state sales tax.

Dunkin’ Donuts made a big boast by seeking to trademark the phrase “Best Coffee in America.” (Application denied.) Elsewhere in the food and dining world, a year after the Globe revealed that many restaurants were swapping out desired fish for less expensive species, the paper revealed that several seafood purveyors were charging consumers for excess water in the packaging of their fish.

And the state’s casino era had a stuttering start that as of this writing had produced plenty of interest, including from casino developer Steve Wynn, but no casino licenses and, thus, no casinos. Any bets it happens in 2013?

David Filipov is a Globe reporter. E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter @davidfilipov. For a wrap-up of the rest of the country, come back January 6 for Dave Barry’s take.