By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 31, 2008 at 11:27 AM
A new year is here and a look back at the last 12 months reveals a year of ups and downs for Milwaukee. Here's a look at the top 10 stories that affected us in 2008.

1. Favre retires, unretires, trade

When Brett Favre announced his retirement in early March, it was one of those "where were you when you heard the news?" moments. Though the Packers' iconic quarterback had flirted with the notion of retirement in the past -- to the frustration of fans and team officials -- the finality of the announcement hit like a gut punch. Grown men wept when Favre broke down during a subsequent news conference. Sports Illustrated put Favre on its cover. The biggest sports story of the year in the state was sealed. Then, things got weird. Favre's family and friends released cryptic hits in the media; Favre himself hinted to David Letterman that "something might happen" when training camp approached. Favre told the Packers he wanted to return. The Packers told him they didn't want him. Favre demanded his release, presumably so he could play for Minnesota. The Packers refused. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell got involved. The soap opera reached a peak in late July, when Favre arrived in Green Bay on a private plane, met with team officials and left town. When he finally was traded to the Jets for a conditional draft pick, Packer Nation was divided. Half the fans seemed glad to see a resolution; others felt that general manager Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy should be fired for incompetence. Eventually, time will heal the wounds and Favre will be welcomed back to Lambeau Field for a jersey retirement and years of glad-handing and honorary captain slots. It could be a while, though.

2. Wisconsin goes blue

In 2004, Wisconsin was considered a "battleground state." But in the 2008 presidential election, it was hardy a fight with Barack Obama receiving 53 percent of the state's votes, compared to John McCain's 46 percent.  In the City of Milwaukee, itself, the election was a blowout: Obama earned 78.8 percent of the votes. Until the final days of the campaign, many expected it to be a much closer race statewide, but on Nov. 8, only 13 counties went red (including Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington). Interestingly, Wisconsin is not among the nation's most racially diverse, with an African-American population of only 6 percent, according to a 2006 census report. That means, like the rest of the country, Wisconsin's white population also voted heavily for Obama. In the end, the Democrats' victory represented their sixth straight. The last time the G.O.P. took Wisconsin  was in 1984.  With numbers like this, we might see Wisconsin labeled a "blue state" right off the bat in 2012. 

3. Brewers' postseason play

After a 26-year absence, the Brewers returned to the postseason in 2008 by winning the National League Wild Card on the final day of the season. After struggling down the stretch, the Brewers got hot in the final week and finally got to taste playoff champagne when CC Sabathia, acquired in a midseason trade, defeated the Cubs in the regular-season finale at Miller Park. The Brewers and thousands of fans then waited for the Mets to lose a game at Shea Stadium, a defeat that sealed Milwaukee's trip to the National League Division Series. The celebration was raucous, but the Brewers' postseason run ended quickly with a loss to eventual World Series champion Philadelphia.  

4. MChange completion

The rebuilding of the Marquette Interchange, I-794 and other related routes took years, but in the end it took less time and fewer dollars to complete than projected. Although the closures were generally not as traumatic as many might have expected, the re-opening came not a minute too soon. As Milwaukee taxpayers who drive through the MChange on a daily basis, we rejoiced when the construction vehicles and orange barrels disappeared around Aug. 19. The debate continues, however, on whether or not the changes helped with traffic flow. Get ready now for the Zoo Interchange project and the plan to rebuild I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.

5. Harley-Davidson 105th birthday and Museum

The volatile economy created some nervous moments in the manufacturing world as uneasy consumers curtailed their spending and credit markets contracted. Even venerable Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee's gift to the motorcycle world, felt the pinch. Though sales and stock prices tumbled, Harley showed that it knows how to throw a party. The company's 105th anniversary celebration grabbed the headlines in late August, but the party really kicked off with the unveiling of the Harley-Davidson Museum. Located at 6th and Canal Streets near Downtown, the glistening $75 million structure features three buildings and a dazzling array of bikes and artifacts. Despite the tough economy, thousands of bikers rolled into town for the reunion, which culminated with a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Lakefront.

 6. Ayyy, the Bronze Fonz

After much hype and a little controversy, the Bronze Fonz finally took centerstage (or at least center Riverwalk on Aug. 19. In attendance were Henry Winkler and most of the stars of television's beloved "Happy Days." There was Anson Williams (Potsie), Don Most (Ralph), Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham), Tom Bosley (Mr. Cunningham), Erin Moran (Joanie), Penny Marshall (Laverne) and Cindy Williams (Shirley). With them were the show's co-creator Garry Marshall and co-producer Bob Boyett. Giuseppe Ganelli, president of the International Happy Days Fan Club, made the pilgrimage from Italy for the unveiling. Said Winkler: "We are here to celebrate this amazing honor in my life, that I share piece by piece, finger by finger. It's taller than I am, I can't believe that, I've never actually been this tall. But I share every inch of this statue with my family, with my television family and with my adopted family, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you."

7. Another year of historic snowfall

 The winter of 2007-08 went down in history as the second snowiest winter in Milwaukee with 96 inches, falling just short of the snowiest on record: winter of 1885-86 with 109.8 inches. And just when we thought it couldn’t get much worse than last winter’s arctic combination of ongoing sub-zero temperatures and massive dumpings of heavy snow, we officially entered winter 2008-09. Last year we received a total of 29.5 inches of snow is December alone; this year we surpassed that by three inches as early as Dec. 20. We woke up on Dec. 23 to realize we were getting three to five more, and it didn’t stop there. The normal for December is 11.7 inches,  a number we left in the dust weeks ago. Let it snow …

8. Sick leave referendum

When Milwaukeeans went to the polls on Nov. 4, the presidential election wasn't the only issue to be resolved. Sixty- eight percent of the vote favored a binding referrendum requiring all businesses in the city to provide their employees with sick leave. The referendum outlines a system for employees to earn sick days for hours worked; requiring employers to provide full time employees with a minimum of five days of sick leave annually. Milwaukee joins San Francisco and the District of Columbia as the third city to pass this progressive referendum. But the business community doesn't agree with voters and is fighting the will of the people in court.

9. Michael McGee, jr. sentenced to 6 ½ years in federal prison

In late October, former Ald. Michael McGee, Jr. was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison and ordered to pay $107,433 in restitution. A federal jury convicted McGee of two counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion, five counts of corrupt solicitation and one count of avoiding filing requirements for a cash wire transfer. After the sentencing, McGee gave a remorseful, apologetic, 17-minute statement.

10. City Hall restoration completed

The scaffolding on City Hall finally came down in December after three years of somtimes controversial renovation. The Downtown building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005 and soon after the restoration of the exterior of the building began, including the upgrade of 1,900 windows, sandstone reparation, the replacement of hundreds of thousands of crumbing bricks and the replacement of the copper roofing on the building's two spires. Replications of terra cotta sculptures on the building were created to replace those that have deteriorated. A self-guided exhibition detailing the building's history and restoration process is open to the public on the first and third floors of City Hall, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays through Jan. 16.