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A year of writing this column brings few hoagies, a lot of news | Maria Panaritis

This was supposed to be a busy news year beyond Philly and across Pennsylvania. But midterms, AND clergy abuse AND all the rest? New columnist Maria Panaritis looks back.

From the horrors of clergy abuse (upper left), to the wonders of hand-carved ice sculptures, from a ride through Pennsylvania's most gerrymandered congressional district to the race to win another, it was a busy year for The Inquirer's newest columnist, Maria Panaritis
From the horrors of clergy abuse (upper left), to the wonders of hand-carved ice sculptures, from a ride through Pennsylvania's most gerrymandered congressional district to the race to win another, it was a busy year for The Inquirer's newest columnist, Maria PanaritisRead more--- Jose F. Moreno / Collage by Maria Panaritis. Photos by staff and handouts.

OK. So I didn’t hit the hoagie trail. That’s because 2018 has been a doozy.

When I started this Inquirer column one year ago this month, my strategic vision (aka the voices in my head) included firing off a series of taunts about the perfect hoagie. I’d use the suburbs of Philly, that battleground of American politics and proving ground for middle-class aspirations, as a test kitchen. I’d also be tackling weightier matters, of course. Why not Philly’s favorite cold-cut concoction, too?

But as we say in my line of work, news got in the way. I looked back to see what I did — and what I can do better come January.

You yelled at me, you thanked me. Some hurled offensive messages my way, even if all I did was write about middle-class child-care struggles or prep-school culture. I couldn’t write back to many of you; time is not a working girl’s best friend. Hoagie talk hit the cutting-room floor for the same reason.

I was sidetracked from the cold-cut quest early on for no less than a politician in a pickle. The deli metaphor, if you will, brought down U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan just before Valentine’s Day. The Republican incumbent from Delaware County had found a “soul mate” on his D.C. staff. The young woman had not found the boss equally enchanting. She left Washington, got a taxpayer payout, and we got an ex-congressman out of it.

AT. EXACTLY. THE. SAME. TIME: The state Supreme Court was about to scrap Meehan’s zany congressional district boundaries — borders craftily drawn by Republican artisans years earlier to lock a good old GOP boy into increasingly Democratic suburban Philadelphia. I took a ride through that psychedelic zone one day and ended the jaunt in Intercourse.

And they say life in the suburbs is worse than death. Please.

Meehan and his district went bye-bye. And by May, an infantry of suburban Democratic women marched through the Delaware County remnants of his old jawn with midterm primary bids to replace the disgraced pol. Women were storming to take a new seat next door, too, in Montgomery County. Four liberal ladies ended up taking U.S. House seats in Pennsylvania.

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly: The state’s all-male House ceiling, a chauvinist status quo that reeked of mothballs, is gone. So is the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Good work, suburbia.

As a mere reporter, I’d spent years keeping opinions to myself in the pages of the Inquirer. This new gig requires that I let loose. I’m still figuring this thing out. Sometimes I fall into just-the-facts-gumshoe Old Me. I hit delete and start over.

I visited a world-class ice sculptor as he carved Christmas creations into blocks of frozen water at Linvilla Orchards. I found blind-since-birth Temple University graduate Matt Wallace and his buddy Sam Fryman -- two hockey aficionados who broadcast Penn Women’s ice hockey games like pros.

I went to the Eagles' Super Bowl parade and took in the ebullience of our chronically depressed and anxious collective sports psyche. I tried to capture the profane elegance of Jason Kelce’s savage oratory from the Art Museum steps. (Yes, we DID really win the Super Bowl.) I stood in candlelight as the people of Haverford Township mourned the death of a 2-year-old girl in a YMCA parking lot.

I implored parents and voters to pay attention to the way state lawmakers were destroying even suburban public schools, and not just whack Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman for wanting Abington High School to be named after him. I begged that Stoneleigh be left untouched by the Lower Merion School District. I called foul as Bill Cosby’s accusers were slut-shamed in court.

For much of the year, I swung the columnist’s hammer hard over a singular outrage: Cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania. Even after an exhaustive grand jury report by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office into six of the state’s eight dioceses, Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Senate swung their own hammers at victims by blocking efforts to let them sue the church. This I could not abide. Nor could you, based on the avalanche of grateful emails you sent.

Thank you. And now, a request. In 2019, why don’t we meet? Invite me to your community group, corporate campus, nonprofit, library, or playground. I’d like us to talk. About our livelihoods, our values, the phones and tablets taking over our children’s brains. About our schools, our politicians, about how to make things better. (I’m at

With any luck, maybe I even get to that hoagie throwdown.