2019 preview: A look at some of the big, local stories the year will bring

WASHINGTON — High-profile court proceedings, statewide elections in Virginia that could cement Democrats’ power in the commonwealth and a major Metro construction project that could snarl your commute. They’re just some of the biggest stories WTOP is tracking heading into 2019.

A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. A high-stakes move to reopen the government will be the first big battle between Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump as Democrats come into control of the House.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Government shutdown grinds on with no end in sight This year is beginning just like 2018 ended: with large parts of the federal government shut down amid a fight between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall. The shutdown, which went into effect a few days before Christmas, has already lasted nearly two weeks, but its effects are just now intensifying in the D.C. area. Major tourist attractions, such as Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, which had been able to use leftover money to stay open, are due to close Wednesday, Jan. 2 . Another impact of the shutdown? Many federal employees enroll their children in day care centers run out of federal facilities — which are now shuttered. Meanwhile, the first missed paycheck for federal employees — both those who were furloughed and those who were required to stay on the job — is fast approaching. With no end to the funding impasse in sight, many federal employees are starting their year pinching their pennies and wondering how they’ll pay their bills. With Democrats set to take control of the House this week, the shutdown showdown could be a sign of things to come in D.C. under divided government. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
High-profile trial clouded by uncertainty It was a shocking crime in 2017: Richard Collins III, an African-American Bowie State student, was stabbed to death, allegedly by Sean Urbanski, a white University of Maryland college student, while waiting for a bus on the College Park campus. Urbanski’s first-degree murder and hate crime trial is due to start this month but remains clouded by uncertainty. Already delayed once, the trial was set to start Jan. 22, but last month, Prince George’s County prosecutors asked for another postponement, because the case’s lead prosecutor had resigned. It’s unclear whether the judge will grant the request. Collins’ parents said the trial delays have pained them. “The trial date is a day of both dread, and a hope for resolution,” a victim’s advocate wrote to the judge on behalf of Richard and Dawn Collins, urging him to move ahead with the trial. Also still unresolved is whether prosecutors can show jurors racist cartoons and posts from a white supremacist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation” that Urbanski belonged to. Urbanski’s lawyers have sought to have the federal hate crime dismissed, saying the prosecution based on the Facebook posts violates Urbanski’s First Amendment rights. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein) (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
Snow falls in D.C., Feb. 17, 2018. (WTOP Dave Dildine)
What kind of winter will we have? We had an early blast of winter in November and a snow-free (but rainy!) December. What does the rest of the winter hold? Storm Team 4 meteorologist Doug Kammerer is predicting a winter wallop — two or three major snow storms and snowfall totals of 25 to 35 inches for much of the D.C. area (even more to the west). That’s about double the typical snowfall amount. Kammerer predicts the wet weather patterns (2018 was the wettest year on record) to continue into the winter of 2019 — and colder temperatures mean more of that precipitation could manifest as snow. When will the white stuff arrive? Kammerer predicts the big snowstorms to arrive in January and February. Another source of winter weather predictions, the Farmer’s Almanac, says the mid-Atlantic is due for a colder-than-normal winter that is “unusually snowy.” Modern meteorologists say the almanac is only about 50 percent accurate in its predictions. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Police continue working at a fire-damaged multimillion-dollar home in northwest Washington home, Friday May 22, 2015, where 46-year-old Savvas Savopoulos, his 47-year-old wife, Amy Savopoulos, the couple's 10-year-old son Philip, and housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa were found dead May 14. U.S. marshals and police arrested a dangerous ex-convict and took his five companions into custody, safely ending a multistate manhunt in the slayings of a wealthy Washington family and their housekeeper. The fugitive task force tracked Daron Dylon Wint to New York and back before they caught up with him late Thursday (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
4 murder convictions — now, a prison sentence Come Feb. 1, the man convicted of one of the most brutal crimes in recent D.C. history will learn his sentence — and then have the opportunity to appeal. A D.C. Superior Court jury convicted 37-year-old Daron Wint last October on 20 felony counts, including first-degree premeditated murder, kidnapping and extortion, in the deaths of Savvas and Amy Savopoulos; their 10-year-old son, Philip; and one of the family’s housekeepers, Vera Figueroa. Prosecutors said Wint, an unemployed former welder at the Savopoulos-owned American Iron Works company, took the victims hostage inside the Savopoulos family’s Northwest D.C. mansion and held them hostage for 19 hours before extorting $40,000 from the businessman father. Wint then killed the victims, set the house on fire and fled the scene in Amy Savopoulos’ blue Porsche, which was later set on fire. Wint, who took the stand in his own defense, had sought to pin the killings on his two younger brothers. But, the jury didn’t buy it. Wint faces life in prison without the possibility of release. The indications are that his lawyers will appeal his conviction. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin) (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Ralph Northam
What to watch for in Virginia’s off, off-year elections After the high-profile 2018 electoral contests, 2019 is an off, off year. But, there are still some developments worth watching in Virginia. Democrats, buoyed by a strong showing two years ago, are bullish about their opportunity to pick up majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Democrats need to pick up just two seats in each chamber to control both. In the lower chamber, it’s been more than two decades since Democrats held a majority. In the Senate, Republicans have controlled the chamber for 16 of the last 20 years. Democrats are hoping for a repeat of 2017. Before those elections, the GOP held a solid 66-to-34 majority in the House of Delegates. But, Democrat candidates steamrolled over several Republican incumbents, picking up 15 seats and resulting in only a razor-thin majority for the once-dominant GOP — 50 to 49. And, the battle for General Assembly seats starts sooner than you think. A special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jennifer Wexton — who unseated Barbara Comstock last fall for a U.S. House seat — is set for Jan. 8. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP/Steve Helber)
Metro train
Get ready for the ‘summer shutdown’ If you thought disrupted Metro service was a thing of the past — watch out. This summer, Metro is planning to temporarily close all Blue and Yellow Line stations south of Reagan National Airport as part of a massive construction project to rebuild outdoor station platforms. The “summer shutdown” affects six stations: Braddock Road, King Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield. The closures will stretch across the entire summer — from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The construction project is likely to trigger the biggest — and, perhaps, most painful — impact to Metro riders since the 2016 “SafeTrack” surges, which involved trains sharing a single track for weeks at a time and partial shutdowns on some sections of track. Metro estimates the closures will affect at least 8 percent of rush-hour riders, many of whom are expected to drive instead, which could clog Northern Virginia roads. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
This Oct 25, 2018 photo shows the odds board at the sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gamblers bet $260 million on sports in New Jersey in October, bringing the total to nearly $600 million since mid-June. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Who’s next to OK sports betting? Last month, D.C. became the first jurisdiction in the area to approve sports betting after a federal block on the practice was knocked down by the Supreme Court last spring. The District’s measure allows private businesses, such as stadiums, arenas, bars and restaurants, to apply for licenses to operate sports betting facilities. Betting likely won’t start until the summer, but city officials expect it to bring in some $92 million over the next four years. How quickly will Maryland and Virginia follow suit? It may be a while, but D.C.’s neighbors are definitely interested. Speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he was open to the idea and proposed a commission to examine the impact. In Maryland, lawmakers introduced a bill last winter to study the issue of sports gaming. However, the bill languished in the General Assembly. In Maryland, it would likely take a voter referendum to OK the practice, so it may take a while before Marylanders can get in on the betting. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (AP/Wayne Parry)
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, carries the Stanley Cup during a banner-raising ceremony before the team's NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Capitals keep eye on the Cup, but can they win it again? First things first: 2018 was the Washington Capitals’ year. The team went all the way to their first Stanley Cup, fueling fan euphoria in the nation’s capital. But, can they recapture the same magic this year? It seems everyone wants to know. If you start typing “can Capitals” into the Google search bar, it auto-completes with “repeat.” So, how is the season shaking out? After all the glory of 2018, the year ended with a whimper for the D.C. team. The Caps suffered a 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, who shook off a six-game losing streak to defeat the home team at Capital One Arena on New Year’s Eve. But overall, the Caps are leading the Metropolitan Division, ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins, of course, won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016-2017. We’ll learn this year whether the Caps join their ranks. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (AP/Nick Wass)
New county executives take charge. Marc Elrich in Montgomery County; Angela Alsobrooks in Prince George's County; and Calvin Ball in Howard County. (WTOP/Courtesy March Elrich/Courtesy Calvin Ball)
New county executives take charge The new year brings a slew of new political leadership in several Maryland counties. In the past few weeks, new county executives have been inaugurated in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. After the inaugurations comes the hard work. Angela Alsobrooks, the county’s former top prosecutor, made history as the first female county executive of Prince George’s County. At the top of her agenda: education. Shortly after her inauguration, Alsobrooks announced she was tapping education policy veteran Alvin Thornton to serve as the chair of the county’s board of education. Marc Elrich, a former longtime council member, takes the helm in Montgomery County, succeeding three-term executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett. Elrich, who handily won a three-way race in November, has promised to improve the business climate while also tackling a to-do list of liberal priorities, including tackling climate change, affordable housing, better transit options and expanded early childhood education In Howard County, Democrat Calvin Ball unseated Republican incumbent Allan Kittleman, becoming the county’s first African-American county executive. At the top of the to-do list is a controversial five-year flood mitigation plan for Ellicott City that would transform key parts of the town’s historic downtown after devastating flash floods last spring and in 2016. Also taking the reins: Democrat Johnny Olszewski in Baltimore County and Democrat Steuart Pittman in Anne Arundel County. (WTOP/Courtesy March Elrich/Courtesy Calvin Ball) (WTOP/Courtesy March Elrich/Court)
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A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. A high-stakes move to reopen the government will be the first big battle between Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump as Democrats come into control of the House.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Snow falls in D.C., Feb. 17, 2018. (WTOP Dave Dildine)
Police continue working at a fire-damaged multimillion-dollar home in northwest Washington home, Friday May 22, 2015, where 46-year-old Savvas Savopoulos, his 47-year-old wife, Amy Savopoulos, the couple's 10-year-old son Philip, and housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa were found dead May 14. U.S. marshals and police arrested a dangerous ex-convict and took his five companions into custody, safely ending a multistate manhunt in the slayings of a wealthy Washington family and their housekeeper. The fugitive task force tracked Daron Dylon Wint to New York and back before they caught up with him late Thursday (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Ralph Northam
Metro train
This Oct 25, 2018 photo shows the odds board at the sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gamblers bet $260 million on sports in New Jersey in October, bringing the total to nearly $600 million since mid-June. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, carries the Stanley Cup during a banner-raising ceremony before the team's NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
New county executives take charge. Marc Elrich in Montgomery County; Angela Alsobrooks in Prince George's County; and Calvin Ball in Howard County. (WTOP/Courtesy March Elrich/Courtesy Calvin Ball)

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