The world at a glance . . . United States
Flood threat remains: The rising river waters threatening Fargo and Bismarck receded somewhat this week, but officials worry that runoff from midweek blizzards could raise water levels again. The level of the Red River, near Fargo, fell slightly below 38 feet, easing pressure on the 38-foot-high levees that protect the city. But authorities worried that waves caused by high winds could weaken the levees. In Bismarck, on the banks of the Missouri River, water levels have fallen by 7 feet since last week, but city officials are concerned that with temperatures rising above 40 degrees, runoff from melting snow could force water levels up again. Some 1,700 Bismarck residents have moved to higher ground.
Nursing home horror: An unemployed house painter this week went on a shooting rampage at a nursing home where his estranged wife worked, killing eight people before being shot by a police officer. Police say Robert Stewart, 45, entered Pinelake Health and Rehab with multiple firearms and wandered the halls firing at random. He killed seven patients, ages 75 to 98, as well as a nurse, Jerry Avant, 39. The rampage ended in a gunfight between Stewart and Police Officer Justin Garner; both men were wounded, though not critically. Authorities say Stewart was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and had separated from his wife, who worked at Pinelake as a nurse’s assistant. She reportedly hid in a bathroom during Stewart’s assault.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Too close to call: A special congressional election widely seen as a referendum on Barack Obama was too close to call this week—the outcome to be determined by absentee ballots. In the contest to fill a House seat vacated when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy held a 65-vote lead over Republican state legislator Jim Tedisco. More than 10,000 absentee ballots have to be counted—a process that could take weeks. Republicans hold a 70,000-voter registration advantage in the upstate district, but it went Democratic in the last election. Murphy campaigned on his support for the administration’s stimulus package, while Tedisco opposed the package and other administration economic policies. Both parties have sent top operatives to New York to work on the expected recount.
Case dismissed: The Justice Department said this week that it would drop its corruption case against former Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, despite winning a conviction against him in October. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the prosecution had withheld key evidence—a deposition by the prosecution’s star witness, oil executive Bill Allen, that contradicted his testimony on the witness stand. Stevens, 85, who lost his Senate seat in November, has been trying to get his conviction overturned on prosecutorial misconduct and other grounds. “I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed,” Stevens said. “That day has finally come. It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair.”
New York City
Controversial name change: The owner of the building going up at the former site of the World Trade Center said that it would drop the name Freedom Tower and instead use One World Trade Center, the name of the now-vanished north tower. The decision by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sparked an immediate outcry, led by former New York Gov. George Pataki, who first used the name Freedom Tower in a 2003 speech. In honor of the 3,000 dead, Pataki said, “those addresses should never be used again.” The Port Authority says the Freedom Tower name could invite terrorist attacks and scare off prospective tenants. Construction delays and other problems have pushed the project’s expected completion date back to 2013.
Courthouse scandal: Two state judges have been sentenced to prison, and the convictions of more than 5,000 teenagers have been vacated, after an FBI investigation uncovered a long-running bribery scheme. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty to taking $2.6 million in kickbacks from a private prison operator, in exchange for sentencing teens to terms in the company’s juvenile detention centers. The scheme unraveled after Hilary Transue, 17, was sentenced to detention simply for creating a MySpace page mocking an assistant principal at her school. A children’s-advocacy group took up her case and persuaded the FBI to investigate. Ciavarella and Conahan were each sentenced to more than seven years in prison.