Looking back at 2023 in Philly: From ‘getting s*** done’ to sports letdowns to historic new mayor

Taylor Swift is likely the biggest story of 2023 as the pop superstar packed stadiums (including three “dreamy” nights at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field) and movie theaters, took over NFL games amid her budding romance with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce and landed on the cover of TIME magazine as its Person of the Year.

Yes, the Era of Swifties is now and we could spend the rest of this article just looking back on the Berks County native’s many accolades.

But, with all the notable Philadelphia news stories from the tragic to the controversial to the just plain strange from this past year, Swift didn’t even make our Top 10 list of the most memorable stories from the Delaware Valley in 2023.

Let’s take a look back (in no particular order):

I-95 collapse: Tragedy and traffic result in ‘getting s*** done’

Arguably no story from 2023 pulled at all types of human emotion like the fiery collapse and quick rebuild of a stretch of Interstate 95 in the heart of Northeast Philadelphia.

The June 11 crash left tanker truck driver Nathan Moody dead and I-95 collapsed at Cottman Avenue. Initially, officials warned that repairs and subsequent detours could take months to complete.

But, then a plan was hatched to build up the roadway with temporary fill that would allow three directions of traffic to get by in each direction as more permanent bridges were built. The livestream of crews working around the clock became must watch video as drivers slowly snaked along surface streets.

Then after just 12 days filled with news conferences, plenty of heavy machinery and hard work, Gov. Josh Shapiro – who had only taken office just months earlier – took a victory lap.

“We demolished a roadway, we rebuilt I-95 in just 12 days,” he said on June 23. “Through that process we showed the nation what Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are all about.”

“When we work together, we can get s*** done here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said with a smile in what might have been the most memorable and profane quote of the year.

That work has continued in the months since as traffic is shifted back onto permanent lanes.

Kingsessing mass shooting: Gunman rampages through Philly neighborhood

Unfortunately, not everything in Philadelphia worked as efficiently.

In early July, a gunman wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with two guns opened fire on the streets of Southwest Philadelphia’s Kingsesessing neighborhood, killing five people and wounding a toddler and teenager, police said. Surveillance video captured the gunman during the deadly rampage.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney summed it up this way: “that scene must have been chaotic.”

“We have absolutely no idea why this happened,” now-former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at the time. “This person decided to leave their home and target individuals.”

In the hours and days that followed, more was revealed about the suspected shooter Kimbrady Carriker and the emergency response failures that could have delayed the response.

It was later revealed that the first victim of the massacre, Joseph Wamah Jr., was killed about 44 hours before the public mass shooting. At the time of Wamah’s killing, 911 calls were made, but no evidence was found of a shooting. It was later revealed that dispatchers sent police to the wrong north side of 56th Street rather than the correct south side.

As recent as November, City Council heard testimony about ongoing concerns over 911 call response in Philadelphia.

Carriker remains in custody after being found unfit to stand trial over the summer.

Eddie Irizarry killing: Police Officer Mark Dial shoots, kills driver; department changes story after video reveals different details

Another deadly shooting caught on camera raised questions about police response after the story of what led to Philadelphia Police Officer Mark Dial shooting and killing driver Eddie Irizarry changed.

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Irizarry was shot and killed within seconds of Dial and his partner pulling him over along a Kensington street in August. Police initially claimed that Irizarry lunged at officers with a knife, but it was later revealed that he was seated in the driver’s seat when Dial fired through the windows of the car.

An attorney would also release surveillance video that shows the rapid series of events that led to the shooting and refuted the initial police account.

“I understand and want to acknowledge the hurt and confusion that family and community members can experience when details of investigations change and especially when they change in the very public way that this has occurred,” Outlaw said once police worn-body camera footage came to light.

In the days to come, Dial was dismissed from the police department and charged with murder. However, a judge would drop those murder charges about a month later.

Some people took the outrage of the murder charges being dismissed as an opportunity to loot stores, leading to dozens of arrests.

Murder charges were later refiled against Dial in October and he has remained behind bars since.

Danilo Cavalcante: Search for convicted escaped killer reverberates far beyond just Philly suburbs

The caught-on-camera escape from Chester County Prison by murderer Danilo Cavalcante led to a two-week manhunt that grabbed headlines far beyond just Philadelphia.

Cavalcante crab-walked his way up the prison yard wall of the Pocopson Township facility and made his way out on Aug. 31. At the time, authorities called the recently convicted killer an “extremely dangerous” man.

The next two weeks would be filled with false alarms of sightings, actual sightings — including on Longwood Gardens trail cams — rumors about where he could be headed and the revelations that Cavalcante had changed his appearance, at one point stole a van and had stolen a rifle.

In the end, he wound up being captured while wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie, being posed for a photo with the group of law enforcement that eventually nabbed him.

While taking another victory lap — this time for Cavalcante’s capture — Shapiro quipped, “whoever had their Eagles hoodie stolen. If you could let us know, I’ll do my best to get you one of those new kelly green ones.”

No word if Shapiro ever gifted that hoodie.

Philly sports letdowns: Teams tear out fans’ hearts again… and again… and again

Speaking of the Eagles, they sure gave fans a thrill all the way to the Super Bowl, but in the end came up short in excruciating fashion against the Chiefs.

At least football fans everywhere got to really know Eagles star center Jason Kelce, his brother Travis and their mom Donna Kelce thanks to the event being dubbed the “Kelce Bowl” (and Mama Kelce sharing her cookies).

The pain didn’t end there for Philly sports fans…

In the spring, Joel Embiid and the Sixers blew a late lead in what could have been a clinching Game 6 against the Boston Celtics and wound up losing the series for the team’s latest second-round exit. Both Doc Rivers (fired) and James Harden (traded) would wind up being casualties of the latest playoff collapse.

But, we still had the Phillies, right? Another trip to the World Series was within reach. But, then Craig Kimbrel imploded, the offense sputtered and the Phils fell short to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series, dropping games 6 and 7 at Citizens Bank Park, nonetheless.

The area, however, did get a thrill by watching the Media (Delaware County) Little League team make its way to the Little League World Series, even if they didn’t win the whole thing.

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Cherelle Parker wins: Philadelphia’s 100th mayor makes ‘herstory’

There was, however, a history-making win in Philadelphia in 2023 as Democrat Cherelle Parker was elected mayor. She is set to become the first woman ever to lead the city after 99 men before her.

The road wasn’t easy with May’s primary field full of Democrats vying to be mayor. When the smoke cleared, the former councilperson remained standing. She would go on to easily defeat Republican David Oh in the November general election to set herself up to be the first woman to lead Philadelphia City Hall.

Parker in the hours after being elected started laying the foundation for how she plans to move the city forward and make it safer.

“These are the people that you go to war with,” she said of her transition team.

She also spoke of having a diverse group of decision makers and leaders in her orbit. She announced a roundtable to help her make decisions as mayor.

“A Parker administration does not attempt to move forward with a legislative effort without it coming through this intergovernmental roundtable,” she said. “This is how we will deliver the results — working together.”

Parker has spent the last several weeks of 2023 filling out roles in her administration. One of her most profile appointments is Kevin Bethel to lead Philly police.

Penn, Temple upheaval: Turmoil on Philly college campuses

College campuses were places where working together has been a struggle this year, especially amid turmoil at both Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Both schools were at the center of leadership shake ups in 2023, but for very different reasons.

At Temple, Jason Wingard resigned in March amid ongoing concerns over crime in and around the North Philadelphia campus and faculty members questioning his handling of strike threats, finances and job cuts.

Days later, longtime Temple administrator JoAnne Epps was named acting president. Epps’ tenure was short as she died suddenly after falling ill on stage during a September event.

Former Temple President Richard Englert then resumed the role as a “transitional leader” while the university searched for a permanent president.

At Penn, President Liz Magill resigned in December after weeks of questions over her response to antisemitism on campus.

Questions over Magill’s leadership and response to Jewish student’s concerns began with Penn hosting the Palestinian Writes Literature Festival in September and came under the microscope after Israel declared war on Hamas following the Gaza-based terror group’s deadly terror rampage against Israeli citizens on Oct. 7.

For weeks, trucks drove around campus calling on Magill to lose her job and major donors — including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s family — threatened to pull millions from the university. But, the final straw came when Magill — flanked by the presidents of other prestigious universities, Harvard and MIT — faced a grilling on Capitol Hill.

After Magill and her fellow college presidents seemingly failed to condemn calls for genocide against Jewish people when prompted by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, during the hearing, Magill attempted damage control in a video to the college community where she said, “I want to be clear, a call for violence to Jewish people is threatening, deeply so.”

But, it was too late to save her job. J. Larry Jameson is wrapping the year as Penn’s interim president until a permanent replacement can be found.

Concerns over discrimination on campus jumped across the street to Drexel University as in December it was announced that Drexel was among several universities being investigated by Depart of Education’s Office for Civil Rights under Title VI, officials said. The alleged discrimination could include antisemitic or Islamophobic activities on campus.

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Officers Fitzgerald, Shisler, Mendez gunned down: Police heroes give ultimate sacrifice in line of duty

It was a year of sacrifice for those in blue who serve the region with officers being killed in the line of duty from the city to New Jersey. The region paused at least three times to memorialize heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

In February, Temple University Police Sgt. Chris Fitzgerald was gunned down while patrolling near campus.

Fitzgerald left behind four children — two girls and two boys — between the ages of 7 to 13 with wife Marissa.

“My kids will always know who their dad is,” Marissa said. “Their dad is a hero and he is our greatest hero.”

Fitzgerald’s death led to renewed calls for more Temple police officers and put Wingard in the crosshairs of campus safety concerns.

In March, Deptford Township Police Officer Robert “Bobby” Shisler was shot during a struggle while making a pedestrian stop. He died about two months later.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the Shisler family during this difficult time of bereavement,” Deptford Police Chief Joseph Smith wrote. “Though nothing can take away the pain of his passing, Bobby’s incredible strength and bravery will be an unforgettable example of being Deptford strong.”

Philadelphia Police Sgt. Richard Mendez was gunned down while intervening in car thefts at a Philadelphia International Airport parking lot in October.

“He was a true hero, a dedicated public servant, and a beloved member of our community,” Kenney said.

Canadian wildfire haze: The air outside is frightful in Philly

You might have dusted off that N95 face mask over the spring as smoky haze from wildfires hundreds of miles away in Canada led to poor air quality in the Philadelphia region in early June.

Could kids play outside? Could events go on as planned? People were glued to their phones and covering their noses and mouths as the haze blanketed the region.

It seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie as people’s throats and eyes burned from the bad air that raised to the level of Code Red. The air got so bad that it caused changes to trash pickup and the postponement of a Phillies game and several other outdoor events.

It would eventually clear, but some instances of not-great air would later occur as the pesky Canadian wildfires continued to burn.

What’s in Philly’s water supply? Fears lead to run on water, ice at stores

The bad air came weeks after fears over bad water. This hysteria started with a series of push alerts sent to cellphones. The alerts kept coming, most saying the water was safe, for now.

The reassurances weren’t enough as people rushed to stores to buy bags of ice and any bottled water they could get their hands on. Empty shelves became commonplace from corner stores to supermarkets.

“It’s scary to have your water supply infected with some kind of chemical,” Kenney said amid the scare. But, he and other city leaders later assured folks they could kick the bottled water to the curb by drinking a glass of tap water at a news conference.

“Now we can all confidently say the threat has passed,” Kenney said.

Philadelphia news: It never stops

Something that never passes is NBC10’s commitment to bringing you the news.

What stories might live on in our memories in 2024? With the Olympics, a presidential election and so much more ahead next year, only time will tell.

Be sure to have the most updated version of the NBC10 app downloaded so you don’t miss a thing.

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