Counting them down in order, here's the official Exile on Jones Street Top 10 Strangest Political Stories of the Year.1. Vernon Robinson
Can there be anything stranger than a sex-obsessed candidate who sends out fund-raising letters implying that his opponent is having a gay affair with a famed San Francisco blogger while inviting aliens across the border for a non-stop fiesta? Can it get any stranger to see a candidate repudiate and then defend an ad that details sex studies he claimed his opponent funded rather than buy body armor for the troops?
No, there is nothing stranger than that. Congrats, Vern. Now get back under your rock.2. Ferry Foolish
Question: What's dumber than riding around in a state ferry at the Tall Ships event eating shrimp cocktail and drinking chilled Chardonnay to the sounds of a jazzy steel drum band while thousands swelter in long lines only to be turned away?
Answer: Thinking nobody would care.
Former Rep. Michael Decker, who pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 and a promise of a job for his son to switch parties in 2002, testified in federal court that he met a Democratic legislator in an International House of Pancakes near I-85 in Salisbury and received a bag with $38,000 in checks and $12,000 in cash as part of the deal. Speaker Jim Black later admitted he was the Democrat who met Decker, but denies Decker's account. Black said he only later helped Decker raise campaign funds. According to Decker's campaign records, he apparently used the money to buy a used van and drive around the South.4. Aaaaaaarrrr!
The latest in the Tall Ships fiasco (see Ferry Foolish) is that the Department of Cultural Resources—meaning the state, meaning you and me—may have to bail out the event sponsors to the tune of $2 million or so. The massive mismanagement of this summer's Pepsi Sail event turned into a disappointing mess for thousands of irate ticket holders. Now we all may get to share in the misery.5. Mornings with Kevin
While waiting to be sentenced for his conviction on five counts of mail fraud in connection with the political shenanigans that led to the passage of the N.C. Education Lottery, former South Carolina political fixer and (briefly) N.C. lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings has a morning radio show down in St. Augustine, Fla. Geddings and family moved to Florida after realizing, he said, that they had no future in North Carolina. He might be wrong: His sentencing is February in Raleigh. He faces up to 20 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.6. Republican Range Wars
And you thought the Dems had some nasty inter-party scraps. Splits between the backers of former House co-Speaker Richard Morgan and the Friends of Art Pope have led to open feuding between the Wayne and Lenoir county executive committees and all but house-to-house fighting in Moore County.7. The Non-Debate Team
Heath Shuler and Charles Taylor never quite debated a couple of times in a race that was deemed tight all the way up until Shuler won by 8 percent. The strangest moment came when Taylor decided not to show up for an agreed upon face-to-face radio debate. He called the station at the last minute to say he would do it via telephone instead. Shuler stuck around long enough to give the congressman a piece of his mind, and then split.8. Jim and Meredith
If I see another story about whispers in the hallways of the legislature or raised eyebrows over just how close Meredith Norris was to Jim Black, I'm going to puke. He was just helping a plucky young kid with promise make her way in a male-dominated world, OK? You people have sick minds.9. Moment of Éclarity
He may have invented and insisted upon renaming the french fries served in the congressional cafeterias "Freedom Fries," but Walter Jones Jr., who sailed to re-election this year, said he wished he hadn't and called it a dumb idea. Jones, who serves a district with large numbers of active and retired military families, was one of the first Republicans to renounce the war and call for the troops to come home.10. Hege Rerun
Sheriff Gerald Hege and Web/cable network Adrenalin Nation announce an agreement for a new reality show. The former "no deals" Davidson County sheriff, who in 2004 managed to skip jail thanks to a plea bargain, is back in action. This time, Hege, who was charged with 15 felonies in a corruption and misconduct case, "goes undercover to discover the automotive gems hidden in old garages across America," according to a press release. Hege's son Keith doesn't have nearly as nice a time this year. The part-time Davidson County deputy ran for his dad's old job and got his butt kicked at the polls.