King cobras, Cuban travel, Constitution Green and other things that made local headlines in 2015 

The year in local news

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1. Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioners Sam Ings and Patty Sheehan re-elected

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" may be the most cliché thing to say about this year's Orlando municipal elections, but this election was nothing if not cliché. A handful of political outsiders stood up to City Hall (mad as hell, not going to take it, etc.) in an effort to unseat all three of the long-term incumbents. Chief among the challengers' similar gripes is that downtown Orlando has grown immensely, often to the detriment of the smaller communities populated by taxpayers who can't afford to partake in its pricey amenities. After months of increasingly ugly campaigning and contentious political ads and arguments, though, less than 15 percent of the population showed up at the polls and all of the incumbents were re-elected soundly.

2. U.S. Department of Justice closes investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin

On Feb. 24 – almost three years to the day that Miami teen Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a Sanford neighborhood by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman/vigilante wannabe – the U.S. Department of Justice announced that there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal civil-rights charges against shooter George Zimmerman. That leaves Zimmerman free to continue making bad art, challenging rap stars to boxing matches and tweeting inappropriate images to the world (until Twitter suspends his account, that is).

3. A growth year for Orlando City Soccer

This year belonged to the Orlando City Soccer Club. It was the first year the team played as part of the MLS, and to make sure they weren't playing to a bunch of empty bleachers, they launched a Fill the Bowl campaign to sell as many seats as possible in the 60,000-seat Citrus Bowl. Not only was the stadium not empty for the inaugural game – they sold the damn thing out. Orlando City also announced this year that it didn't need government support to construct the soccer-specific stadium they've always wanted, which has been delayed as the state Legislature has failed to commit the $30 million in public financing requested to complete the deal. Instead, the club will finance the construction itself and pay the city back for the land on which the stadium is to be built. Finally, in October, the club announced the launch of a whole new team in its franchise – the Orlando Pride, a women's team that will play as part of the National Women's Soccer League in 2016. Go City.

4. Central Florida becomes Puerto Rico's 79th municipality

As Puerto Rico plunged deeper into a financial crisis that included an "unpayable" debt of $72 billion, according to the island's Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, thousands of people fled the U.S. territory in a mass exodus for Orlando. The city and the rest of Central Florida displaced New York and every other U.S. destination for Puerto Rican migration. Congress has routinely opposed pleas from representatives, activists and the island's own governor to allow Puerto Rico, whose residents are U.S. citizens, to use state bankruptcy protections and create a comprehensive debt-repayment plan. Florida's newest residents are moving into the "swing part of the swing state," creating a political presence and unique voice that cannot be ignored.

5. Saying goodbye to Tinker Field

After protests over what would happen to the place where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his only speech in Orlando, city officials voted to tear down the stadium and grandstands of the historic baseball field in the Parramore neighborhood. Once the site of racial progress in 1964, the field now stood in the way of the Citrus Bowl's progress. City Council declared the site a historic place and voted to preserve the field, but not what stood on it, and in April it was demolished. City officials are currently trying to memorialize the ballpark, but facing some pushback from people still questioning why it had to go.

6. Getting to Havana and Dubai from Orlando became a thing

In hopes of bringing more business partnerships and tourists from the Middle East and Asia, local officials partnered with Emirates to bridge a connection between Orlando and Dubai. After President Obama relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba last year, the Orlando International Airport made another, perhaps more emotionally significant connection when it opened up one flight to Havana. The flight links Central Florida to the island 90 miles south of Key West for the first time in years and puts the airport on par with airports in Tampa and Miami that already offered those flights.

7. Constitution Green Park is saved

We're suckers for a pretty little green space, not to mention monumental old oak trees, so we were relieved when we learned that Orlando had struck a deal with the owners of the patch of land downtown known as Constitution Green Park to save it from development. Earlier this year, the owners of the land – which the city has leased as a park for decades – were considering letting a developer turn it into a high-rise complex. After some rallies, protests, petitions and (most importantly) some creative financial maneuvering by city officials, Orlando agreed to purchase the park by offering another parcel of property, plus a few million in cash, as a trade.

8. The nightmare that is Interstate 4 becomes more hellish with the start of the I-4 Ultimate Project

Construction on what will probably be one of the most rage-inducing expansions in Central Florida began in July with the I-4 Ultimate Project. For the next six years, the $2.3 billion project will work through 21 miles of I-4 to widen the highway, install four new toll lanes for express travel, reconstruct 15 interchanges and rebuild more than 75 bridges. Transportation officials say it will be worth it in the end, but that doesn't mean we won't get there with new anger management issues on the commuters' end of this stick.

9. The Orange-Osceola judicial circuit leads the state in child arrests

Central Florida beat Miami and Tampa in a subject not related to tourism this year, but it's not something to be proud of. From 2013 through 2014, officials arrested 8,162 juveniles in the Orange-Osceola judicial circuit, beating out the more populated circuits that included Miami-Dade County and Broward County. We've had the highest number of juveniles arrested in the state since 2009, despite being the third most populous circuit. The numbers also point out a racial disparity: Black children represent 55 percent of arrests in Orange County despite being 25 percent of the youth population, while in Osceola, they account for 23 percent of arrests, but were only 12 percent of the youth population. 

10. Elvis the cobra sends everyone into a panic

It's not every day that a king cobra dominates the news cycle in Orlando, but for weeks, Elvis seemed to be all anyone could talk about. The snake, an 8-foot-long king cobra that belonged to a man named Mike Kennedy, had somehow escaped his enclosure in Kennedy's home, which also happens to be a sanctuary of sorts for exotic wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set traps, but Elvis avoided them; crews of wildlife experts went out into the woods around Kennedy's home, but Elvis evaded them. Finally, after months on the loose, Elvis finally turned up – underneath a clothes dryer in an Ocoee home.

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