2009 began with celebratory optimism as Santa Fe watched—along with the rest of the world—the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The Champagne glasses didn’t get much more use as the year unfolded. As the economy tumbled, with it came the housing market, the job market and the public pocketbook. At the same time, lack of access to affordable health care became an intolerable political juggernaut, pay-to-play scandals unfolded here and elsewhere, and swine flu panic gripped the nation. These stories continue to play out in Santa Fe—and New Mexico—and unfortunately are likely to do so well into 2010.

At the same time, some of this year’s top 10 stories were decidedly local—the debacles of Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary, for example. While medical marijuana made national headlines, New Mexico’s struggle to implement its fledgling program reflects the unique strategy the state took when it passed its law two years ago. The violent surge in area domestic violence shook many in the community, but also prompted greater awareness and understanding of this systemic problem.

Finally, perhaps no story so overwhelmed Santa Feans—including us—as the tragic drunk-driving accident that claimed four young, bright lives last June. There are some stories that, no matter how much ink they take at the time, fade from memory. This is one that never should.

These are our picks for the top 10 stories of the year—you’ll find others’ choices HERE. Feel free to email a signed letter with your own choice to the editor. We’ll try to include it in our first issue of 2010, which publishes Jan. 6. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday season.

—Julia Goldberg

Pay to Play It Again
NM reaches a tipping point for public corruption.

Behind Closed Doors
A murder draws attention to domestic violence epidemic.

Remembering Them
A tragic accident remains close to Santa Fe’s heart.

Empty Pockets
The recession hits New Mexico’s budget.

The Thornburg Variations
One company’s rise and fall echoed the national economy’s.

Going Viral
Swine flu is neither gone nor forgotten.

Unreal Estate
Affordable housing still struggles—despite some wins.

Hashing It Out
For NM’s medical marijuana program, the devil is in the details.

Birth Reform
Economic downturn only worsened New Mexico’s troubled health care system.

400 Years Old
And all I get is this lousy T-shirt?

The Also-Rans

Think it’s easy to round up the top stories of the year? You’re right. The challenge is winnowing that list (ours began with more than 50 possible contenders). Here are 10 more important stories from 2009.

A top 10 pick in 2008, the investigation into the successful campaign waged by Democrat Jerome Block Jr. for the Public Regulation Commission’s 3rd District seat finally came to fruition in 2009. In April, a grand jury handed down eight criminal charges of election- and embezzlement-related fraud against Block Jr., as well as four indictments against his father, former PRC Commissioner Jerome Block Sr. The trial is expected to begin in March, 2010.

The fight to save College of Santa Fe

Last year’s top 10 edition went to press before what would ultimately be an unsuccessful, but heartfelt, lobbying effort by students and supporters to gain legislative support to rescue CSF from demise. What the Legislature failed to do, City of Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, the City Council and Laureate Education pulled off. On July 29, the Santa Fe City Council voted to purchase the campus and lease 61 acres to Laureate Education to operate the school. CSF resumed classes in the fall.

Carlos Fierro
In October, the high-profile drunk-driving case of Carlos Fierro grabbed headlines as a jury deliberated and ultimately found Fierro guilty of vehicular homicide. Fierro had struck and killed William Tenorio the previous November in yet another high-profile DWI case.

The Death of Gilbert Roybal
The death of Gilbert Roybal, following an assault downtown by a still unknown assailant on Sept. 11, shook Santa Fe—in part because of the well-known hairdresser’s wide circle of friends, but also because of questions raised about the police response to the incident. Approximately 10 days after the fatal attack, Santa Fe Police announced a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward for information. The case remains unsolved.

New Mexico repeals the death penalty
Anti-death-penalty advocates won a big victory in March when Gov. Bill Richardson signed the legislative repeal into law. The fate of those men already facing or potentially facing the death penalty for crimes committed prior to the repeal, however, remains uncertain.

New Mexico fails, again, to legalize domestic partnerships
In February, the state Senate voted down a bill to legalize domestic partnerships, once again rejecting equal civil rights for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

Construction halted on site for the new Judge Steve Herrera Judicial Complex due to contamination
On Dec. 14, the county announced it had begun remediating the petroleum-contaminated soils by installing a subsurface barrier to keep said contamination from the site once excavation for the building begins.

The New Green Economy
That green is the new black was a top story in 2008, and it really kicked into gear in ’09 with a particular emphasis on green jobs for youth.

The Rail Runner starts service to Santa Fe
OK, technically the Rail Runner began its Santa Fe route at the end of 2008, but 2009 really was the first year for Santa Feans to adjust to the idea of having a real train. Now if the Rail Runner would just introduce hours for people who want to use it for something other than commuting!

We are still fighting two wars
Lest we forget.