We wish we had a better label for Liveable City than "activist group," but the all-star quality-of-life nonprofit deserves the greatest credit for the biggest progressive coup of the year – driving Borders Books & Music away from the city-subsidized Sixth + Lamar project, across the street from local indie-biz icons BookPeople and Waterloo Records. By laying data on the table showing the Borders deal would create a net loss for the local economy, Liveable City showed that keeping it weird can actually help keep Austin healthy.
The 19-year veteran bus driver for Capital Metro drove a 35-foot-long bus through an obstacle course of traffic cones to beat 33 other top drivers from around the country to win the International Bus Roadeo in Las Vegas last September. Heck, the event name alone almost guaranteed that the title would go to a Texan! Not only had the 48-year-old driver already come close to winning this annual event before (he came in second in 1999 and third in 1990), but he also has never caused an accident on the city streets after driving close to 40,000 hours during his career. Yeeeee-haw!
Arthur Murillo, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2910 E. Fifth, www.capmetro.org
The assistant city manager over public safety, Huffman has impressed us with her calm and careful handling of potentially explosive issues, like the strengthening of the city's noise ordinance and, especially, APD's response to anti-war protests. Huffman's commendable performance gives us a different kind of homeland security.
City Council Assistant City Manager, P.O. Box 1088, 512/974-7079
We thought nothing could match Austin’s March 15 response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for which 7,000 or so fired-up citizens gathered at the Capitol for a rousing chorus of firebrand speeches and a community statement of defiance – and a few days later as the bombing began, a couple of thousand more marched from UT into Downtown to give notice that the anti-war movement is back. As the empire lashed out, we were finding our voices again. Then state Democrats organized a barnburner of a rally at the Capitol for the Texas 11, still in exile in Albuquerque, on a barnburner of a Saturday, where folks from all over Texas denounced the latest power-grab of the nefarious Tom DeLay. EMS was on hand for the 110-degree heat, but nobody could put out the fire.
State District Judge Jeanne Meurer has been a member of Travis County's bench for so long that even her longtime aides have to think about how long it's been (16 years); we think that's a good thing. Meurer is the take-no-crap judge for the county's 98th District that, aside from other civil matters, presides over the county's juvenile court. Meurer rarely seems preoccupied by thoughts of winning re-election, and she's good at making tough decisions – sometimes unpopular decisions that seem to come from the heart.
Travis County District Courts, 1000 Guadalupe Ste. 412, 512/854-9300
It can’t be said that the Lege moved on its own initiative – that credit goes to much hard and relentless work by family, local citizens, pro bono lawyers (and journalists), the NAACP, the ACLU, and a host of other civil rights organizations. But Austin Republican Keel and Houston Democrat Ellis put together the legislative strategy to make it bureaucratically and politically possible for the unjustly convicted and jailed Tulia defendants to breathe free air for the first time in many months. The battle is far from over, in the Panhandle or elsewhere, but credit is due to elected officials who finally managed to do the right thing. Keep it up.
Rep. Terry Keel, PO Box 2910, 512/463-0652
Sen. Rodney Ellis, PO Box 2910, 512/463-0113
The Wheel of Justice moves by very slow degrees, and thus far the OPM has won more public-relations battles than judicial ones – but a journey of several thousand miles has to begin somewhere. Austin’s cops are rightly proud of their standards and practices, but there is plenty of room for improvement – and simply having an official source for public input and output is a small but important leap forward. There is still a long way to go – procedures, training, and oversight all need work – but if we are to get there from here, the monitor’s office will provide a cutting edge.
Office of the Police Monitor, 1106 Clayton Ste. 100-E, 512/974-9090
Rep. Dukes wasn’t alone on this one – Texas House April 29, on HB 15. She was dramatically joined by Houston’s Jessica Farrar, as well as dozens of reps (including Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez) who fought to amend a bill designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights by delay, misinformation, and other obstacles. But in late April as the bill moved toward final passage, Dukes finally had heard enough sanctimony from the hard right about defending the rights and health of pregnant women. "This bill is nothing but a smoke screen so that women will be frightened during that 24-hour time period and coerced into changing their minds," she declared. "Well, put a burqua over me and a veil over my head, because I obviously have no rights. A woman has no rights in this state, when they are being given misinformation and misled and there’s no attempt to balance the information."
Rep. Dawnna Dukes, PO Box 2910, 512/463-0498
Though not out there directly advocating an agenda, the Austin Progressive Potluckers are making an important impact politically and socially: They help people interact and connect. The Potluckers don't restrict themselves to one area of social change, either. Each month, they pick a different local group – environmental, political, or even spiritual – and they crash their party. Hey, at least they bring food. Basically, this introduces members of the host organization to some hungry activists, and it lets the growing number of Potluckers try many new groups and causes on for size. Networking, the key ingredient in any social movement, expands exponentially.
With the starring role as heartbreaker Ryan Atwood on The OC, local boy Benjamin McKenzie may be the next Luke Perry. Nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, McKenzie has engendered a rabid following of fans who equate him with Marlon Brando and Russell Crowe. Though such pronouncements may be premature, McKenzie is a deity on the Internet, with such devotions as The Benjamin McKenzie Online Shrine to pay homage to him. Playing the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks in swank and stylish Orange County, McKenzie’s role should handily propel him to the top of the television hierarchy – cuz that's how we do it in the AT!
We know, we know ... there are many more honorable reasons to admire the Honorable Dawnna Dukes, such as her brilliant mind, her skillful lawmaking prowess, and her passionate advocacy for her East Austin district, as well as for Texans in general. But admit it: Given a choice between watching her and, say, Warren Chisum ... who would you rather watch legislate? Yeah, we thought so.
It took the Austin Free-Net – not a big corporate donor, not a foresighted government agency, but a community collective of real citizens – to get the Internet into the Austin Public Library. Under the leadership of community activist (and poet) Ana Sisnett, the Free-Net has built on this foundation to bring not just cyber-excitement but real computer literacy – and the associated job and life skills – down to street level in Austin's communities of need. The Free-Net has helped all of Austin remember why this high tech thing is important: It can change the world.
It was not a good year for progressive victories at the Lege, but Pasadena popinjay Republican Robert Talton failed once again in his perennial attempt (HB 194) to make the lives of gay families more miserable and the life chances of orphan children just a little more desperate. Despite the ascendance of the GOP over the whole Capitol, they still couldn’t manage this transparent blow against simple compassion and family values – and much of the credit for their defeat goes to the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby, which worked diligently to line up public opposition and private allies, and brought out the troops every time the bill stuck its ugly head up in committee. Which it will no doubt do again in 2005, and we know the LGRL will rise to the challenge once again.
Because the only thing funnier than pants is the absence thereof, student group the Knighthood of Buh (the same patriots who campaigned to change the Longhorns to the "Tropicana Pure PremiumHorns") has been dropping trou on the first Friday of May for the last few years. (They claim, however, not to be the originators of the holiday, only its most vocal advocates.) The 2003 celebration was the most successful yet – bare-thighed revelers enjoyed a number of No Pants Day celebrations downtown, forcing local establishments to expand their "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy. With a few other cities joining in on the fun this past year, it's only a matter of time before the joys of public pantslessness sweep the nation.
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157
UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620
University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718, www.utexas.edu
Sure, there are a lot of sex shops in town, but 365 is owned and operated by Janina Valdez, aka AM radio talk-show host Dr. Natasha. Originally from San Antonio, Valdez moved first to NYC and then L.A. before coming back to roost in Austin. Valdez hosts the syndicated Saturday-night (9pm-midnight) call-in sex show, which can be heard locally on WOAI 1200AM out of San Antonio; has developed her own line of sex-education videos; and has opened the new couples-oriented sex shop at 34th and Guadalupe. She's dated Mick Jagger and Charlie Sheen (and will dish the details!) and was featured in Playboy magazine as one of their hot "Vixens of the Internet." Come on, how lucky can Austin get?
It doesn't take a CPA to understand that money influences politics, but it does require a certain bloodhound/watchdog breed to sniff out corruption on the campaign finance trail – and then alert the rest of us. This is where Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, and Cris Feldman, a laywer in private practice (formerly of TPJ), come into play. They were among the first to make hay out of the millions in secret corporate dollars that went toward the purchase of the GOP-controlled Legislature. Was it an illegal takeover? That's up to a Travis County grand jury and the courts.
Texans For Public Justice, 4601 Spicewood Springs Bldg. 3, Ste. 100, 512/346-7390
It's true that Barton Springs brings out the "weird" in a lot of Austinites, including elected officials, but Will Wynn turned his buttoned-down image inside out with his fully (and nicely) clothed splash into the soul of the city. He never looked more natural during his entire mayoral campaign.
Mayor's Office, 124 W. Eighth, 512/974-2250
On March 28, 2003, tragedy called on Carolyn Mosley Samuel. That afternoon her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend, 16-year-old Marcus McTear, in the hallway of Reagan High School. Despite the overwhelming tragedy and despite her obvious grief, Mrs. Samuel was able to see a bigger picture: that the situation was a tragedy for everyone. She's expressed no need for revenge nor taste for vengeance, and in fact advocated for McTear during his court hearings. Throughout her very public ordeal, Mrs. Samuel has been the picture of compassion and forgiveness. If more people were able to bear tragedy and loss and were able to so fully understand the purpose and design of the justice system, we would be living in a far better world.
Carolyn Mosley Samuel, c/o Sergei Kachura, 743-1156, 512/836-2838 DO NOT PRINT, www.lawsvk.com
He was the greatest shortstop to play the game since the advent of the Babe, but most people don't know Negro League legend Willie Wells from Snack Wells. Props to the Bob Bullock for honoring the late Austin native with The Willie Wells Story, which works as a larger-scale commentary on baseball's pre-1947 color line. The 20-minute one-act play is a meticulously researched first-person recap of Wells' life, enhanced by precious images of the roundball greats who were Jim Crowed out of their proper place in history.
These Fab Four made the Place 5 race the best City Council field we've seen in 10 years. Clarke, of course, went the farthest, forcing Brewster McCracken into a run-off, but Singleton (an old hand at city politics), Tepper (a unique progressive Republican), and Marks (a potential next-generation leader) all helped turn the Place 5 contest into a real dialogue on Austin's future – what all council races should be.
Margot Clarke, 54 Chicon, 512/477-1729
When the hard-right caucus waved the flag on the House floor to endorse the Bush war on Iraq (HCR 75 authored by The Woodlands Republican Rob Eissler), almost all the members joined the mob, including far too many members of the Central Texas delegation. But a handful did stand up to the pressure and defied the jingoists, and Austinites can be proud that among them was one of our own. Remember to raise a glass to District 51 rookie-no-longer Eddie Rodriguez, who, with Fort Worth Dem Lon Burnam and El Paso’s Paul Moreno, effectively resisted being drafted into the military chorus. (District 46 veteran Dawnna Dukes was one of six abstainers.) Who’s been proven right? Rodriguez, Burnam, Moreno made their own majority of three, and we salute them all.
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, PO Box 2910, 512/463-0674
As far as we know, these North Loop anarcho-intellectual-hooligan-bookworms (and bookwormistas) aren't yet being surveilled by John "Big Daddy" Ashcroft, but that doesn't mean they won't hit the big leagues soon. One-stop shopping for everything from Chomsky to Zinn, Punk Planet to MRR, situationist theory to radical social-restructuring ideologies. Plus, they regularly play host to a revolving door of radical (and radically cool) political action groups, bands, film screenings, lectures, workshops, and whatever else strikes their fancy at any given moment. Not since the glory days of UK's CRASS and Flux of Pink Indians quasi-collectives has there been so much radical book smarts in one place. A fitting raspberry pie in the eye of that former Austinite now taking up perfectly good space in the White House.
Two years ago, nobody woulda thunk the former governor of a small northeastern state would find himself in the thick of the presidential race – and setting the agenda for everybody else, including the Big Dubya. It’s still far too soon to tell how this will all sort out next year – but in getting there fast, bringing out forgotten progressive voters, riding the Internet wave, and setting the terms of debate on war and peace, Howard Dean and the Deanheads stand tall. Two Austin originals can take major credit for the Dean surge: former District 51 Rep. Glen Maxey (see Readers, Best Activist) and Convio Inc., the software firm specializing in Web sites for nonprofit organizing and fundraising. Maxey was the instant heart of the Texas Dean campaign, and Convio (now also working for Dean rival Joe Lieberman) provided the cyber-expertise to make it all possible. New motto: All politics is virtual …
Convio, 11921 N. MoPac, 512/652-2600
Of all the many state agencies located around town, the staff of the Secretary of State's Office stands out for their ability to deliver friendly, fast, and efficient customer service every single time you call or visit their Brazos Street offices. The always-friendly staff will help you figure out the answers to questions you didn't even know you had: Have questions about statutory documents? Corporate filings? No problem! (Now there's a positive way to encourage new businesses coming to the state!) We're not sure if it's something they're pumping through the HVAC system over there (happy air, maybe?) or if it's just that they have a really good HR department, but whatever it is, we just hope they keep it up!