Chris Christie. The Garden State governor's national profile rose so high that Saturday Night Live recently parodied the level of enthusiasm his almost-candidacy for president engendered among Republican primary voters. Christie's first two years in office haven't been without missteps, but his budget-shredding and blunt public persona have become the blueprint for GOP chief executives across the country. Philadelphians could rightly recognize Christie as a more sophisticated Frank Rizzo.
Tom Corbett. This Pennsylvania native's rise to the governor's mansion signaled a lull in the amount of influence that Philadelphia would exert in Harrisburg. But between Bonusgate, the Jerry Sandusky investigation, and the severe education cuts he proposed earlier this year, Corbett, the attorney general-turned-governor, has done plenty to shape the public discourse in the commonwealth's largest city. (If he really privatizes the liquor stores, he'll "win" next year's recognition!)
Natalie Munroe. Munroe is the Central Bucks East teacher whose insulting and unprofessional blog posts about her students - she deemed some "frightfully dim," "utterly loathsome," and much, much worse - caused a national firestorm this year. Though Munroe returned to the classroom in September, the controversy and her extended suspension engendered a much-needed debate regarding the intersection of technology and free speech - especially when that intersection occurs in the classroom.
Occupy Philadelphia. Its messages may have been muddled and its protesters parodied, but by the time the local edition of the Occupy Wall Street movement was swept out of Dilworth Plaza, the local news outlets were on a full-time Occupy watch. Thankfully, the local incarnation never got as vitriolic as its sister demonstrations in New York or Oakland, but the protesters did manage to shape many a conversation over the course of nearly two months camped out in front of City Hall.
Jerry Sandusky. The allegations against the former Penn State defensive coordinator have reverberated throughout every corner of the Keystone State. Politicians are clamoring to change the sexual-abuse reporting laws and adjust the statutes of limitations, which is a good thing. The 24/7 news beast has been fed a string of scandalous reports. The great Joe Paterno, formerly the most ethically unimpeachable man in the commonwealth (and perhaps its most powerful nonpolitician), has lost his job. With a number of criminal and civil trials on the horizon, the story's momentum doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Seth Williams. Williams has proven every bit as hard-charging as his predecessor in the District Attorney's Office, the "tough cookie" Lynne Abraham. In February, his office filed charges against Msgr. William Lynn - the first high-ranking Roman Catholic Church official in the United States to be charged as a result of his handling of child sexual-abuse accusations. This month, Williams fulfilled a promise he made in an interview I conducted years ago by deferring to Maureen Faulkner's wishes in the pursuit of the death penalty for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. She recognized the futility of continuing, and he agreed.
My choice for the 2011 local person of the year: Ruben Amaro Jr. The town has been painted red on his watch. And there are just two months until pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater.
Contact Michael Smerconish
Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.