The Texas Ranger is a mythic figure. They were supposed to be the good guys who rode into the corners of the state and fought for good. When Ranger Brian Burzynski started his investigation into alleged abuse by staff of inmates at the West Texas State School, he lived up to that inheritance. He listened to victims and whistle-blowers when so many had ignored them and helped blow the lid off the unforgivable scandal at the Texas Youth Commission.
Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski, Texas Rangers Company E, 2405 S. Loop 250 W., Midland, www.txdps.state.tx.us
Chef/restaurateur Lou Lambert's culinary style has made a name for him across Texas and is gaining national press for his efforts. Sister Liz Lambert, attorney-turned-hotelier, is the proprietor of Hotel San José, the SoCo bastion of chic, and has begun a small empire, often working with brother Lou. Their separate visions of true Texas style with a modern patina seems to enchant the public, and all their efforts win "Best of Austin" awards. They've been lauded in The New York Times, Elle Decor, and Food & Wine, among many other publications, and the menu of Liz's new El Cosmico Hotel in Marfa will be designed by Lou. Continued success to them both; we're all better for it.
Liz Lambert, Hotel San José, 1316 S. Congress, www.sanjosehotel.com
Lou Lambert, Hotel San José, 1316 S. Congress, www.sanjosehotel.com
As genealogist Danny Camacho put it in a past Chronicle News feature ["City of the Dead," April 21, 2006], "A cemetery isn’t just a burial place for dead people. … In its own way, it’s very much alive." Like all cemeteries, Oakwood’s 40 acres are a reflection of their inhabitants’ living societies. In the more-than-century-old cemetery's pre-Civil Rights Movement days, if you had a family to claim you and you weren’t black or Latino, you got buried on the south side with a grave marker – maybe a plain wooden tombstone, or maybe a fancy carved or cast one. If you weren’t a pauper but still “colored,” your plot was probably marked by a small, plain tombstone, a wooden cross, or a single plank. Fast-forward to 2006. Oakwood serves as a kind of park for east/central neighborhood Swede Hill and surrounding areas. People stroll among the graves all the time.
Oakwood Cemetery, 1601 Navasota, 512/478-7152
This old geezer of an electric power plant was finally put to sleep at midnight Oct. 1, much to the delight of neighboring residents who have endured decades of loud churning, dangerous fires, and nagging worries about health hazards. City officials have promised to replace the East Austin plant with – no, not condos, but a park, given its otherwise idyllic location on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.
Holly Power Plant, Holly Street, 512/505-7800
Accountability requires secrecy to be limited, and the attorney general fought an important battle last year to make sure there’s still some light being shed. The Department of Public Safety claimed that Capitol security-camera footage had to be kept secret because it might help “the terrorists.” Abbott rejected their claim and stood by his decision, even when DPS took him to court to overturn his ruling.
Love him or loathe him: Güero's owner Rob Lippincott, along with his partners Abe Zimmerman and Stan Biderman, worked closely with neighborhood associations to make the '04 development at 1400 S. Congress acceptable to residents. Further, they refused offers from national chains to set up shop, in order to promote local businesses. Lippincott, Zimmerman, and Biderman are also partners in Penn Field and the SoCo Center developments on South Congress, whose tenants are also local businesses.
Rob Lippincott, Güero's Taco Bar, 1412 S. Congress, www.guerostacobar.com
If you had a hammer, would you hammer in the morning? Would you hammer in the evening? All over this land? Well, Austin Pride Build could sure use your hammer to help raise the roof of a house that they are building for a nice local grandmother named Marta, in hopes of moving her in by the holidays. There's even a blog charting their progress: www.austinpridebuild.blogspot.com. Partnered with Habitat for Humanity and the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and led by local go-getter Bettie Naylor, Austin Pride Build is a diverse effort to bring together Austin's LGBT community to address, in a very direct way, the affordable-housing crisis that faces all of us and to reach out to the larger community, outside of the boundaries of imaginary social divisions like class, race, and sexual orientation. After all, anyone can join in and swing a hammer. How about you?
Bettie Naylor's Office, 1122 Colorado, 512/472-3000
Although newly appointed Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo has only been in town – officially, that is – for a few months now, he's already done what police chiefs before him could only hope to do (or perhaps never thought to do, or maybe never thought possible): He's earned the respect and support of community activists and of the police union – two groups that rarely agree on anything. That in itself is a feat to be commended. He actively researched Austin and its politics before deciding to enter the race to become chief, and not only did he decide he was still interested in the job, but he's also dazzled just about everyone in town, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Austin Police Association, and Toby Futrell. He's an independent and energetic thinker who wants to make the police department more nimble and responsive – worthy goals that we suspect he might actually achieve.
After a 1989 drunken-driving accident left Fred Leon "Mitchie" Mitchell III severely injured at the age of 3, he and his mother, Joyce Adejumo, made it their mission to prevent the same tragedy from reaching other families. They lobbied hard to tighten drunken-driving laws and their successes include: 1993 Senate Bill 1 that requires immediate suspension of a drunken-driver's license; 1999 SB 114, lowering the blood alcohol content level from .10 to .08; and 2001's Open Container Bill, among others. Mitchell would've been 22 this month, but he died early this year of complications from a rare brain disorder. Though he's no longer with us, the foundation, named in his honor, continues his mission through educational outreach and provision of scholarships to high school students who've been affected by drunken driving. We'll miss you, Mitchie.
Persistence is this li'l lobbyist's m.o. when trying to secure the very best delivery of public health care to the elderly and an estimated 1 million uninsured Texas kids. Such a monumental task requires educating the Legislature (an equally monumental task), of course. On that score, she, along with her peers at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, is often called on by lawmakers of all stripes to – how shall we say – sensitize them about the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
Anne Dunkelberg, Center for Public Policy Priorities, 900 Lydia, www.cppp.org
It may not keep its name very long – now that it’s on the shores of Lady Bird Lake – but a park by any other name will still be sweet. For two decades and in the middle of a pingpong tract of conflicting city priorities, the South Austin folks who dreamed of an engaged public space never lost hope or determination. The result is a combination park-playscape-public living art that will anchor a walkable Downtown for generations. In the end, the neighborhoods and the city and private donors came together to build it, and the people are coming. In addition to this wonderful public space, we’ve gotten a model of what the Town Lake shoreline should be: all of ours and not simply handed over to investors chasing the next big real-estate buck. Lady Bird Lake belongs to all of us!
There couldn't be a more fitting spot for it – dedicated to the heroic, cantankerous, generous woman who in January 1991, marched up Congress to the Capitol, bringing with her a whole new generation of Texans to the hallowed halls of power. Texans still fuss over the details of her political legacy – but in Austin she will be most remembered for her inimitable down-home style, her steady rise from the distaff to the seat of authority, and her determination to bring everybody – all of us – to the table. Renamed last November, in the wake of her untimely passing, the bridge was finally dedicated in Richards' honor on Sept. 7 – when you pass over it, borrow a bit of her implacable energy.
With all the amendments and addenda and amendments to the addenda, life in the Legislature can get dull. So when the El Paso Republican state rep decided he was sick of Speaker Tom Craddick ignoring calls for him to quit, he played political pied piper. The midnight mass exodus he lead brought the House to a standstill and pol-watchers to their feet.
All around the world women wear black and gather in public places to hold vigils against violence and war. In Austin they stand politely and genteelly in front of the Texas state Capitol at noon every Wednesday for an hour, waving affably but determinedly to supporters and opponents alike, handing out fliers, talking through the issues, and proving that activism isn't just for the young and the angry.
Someone holding a cardboard sign by the side of the road normally means either a political campaign or a plea for help. But around the junction of 38th and Guadalupe, where Dave often stands clad in his trademark tie-dyed shirt and rubber Elvis wig, it means smile. They can be charming, cheerful, even challenging ("Austin, are you weird enough?"), but all the homemade signs he holds up are there for no better reason than cheering up drivers on their dreary commute.
Dave the Guadalupe Sign Guy, Corner of Guadalupe & 38th
For his unexpected victory on behalf of death row inmate Kenneth Foster – winning an unprecedented commutation from Gov. Perry for a man who had not committed murder – attorney Hampton has received long-earned and well-deserved praise. Hampton has labored in the uphill pro bono death penalty appeal ranks for years while maintaining a busy criminal practice and doing what he can to lobby for legislative reform of the state’s often draconian legal and judicial system. He is one of a handful of Texas lawyers who do this kind of thankless yet irreplaceable work and part of a larger statewide, national, and international movement fighting for justice. Our applause for him is a congratulatory nod to all of them, as well.
Office of Keith S. Hampton, 1103 Nueces, 512/476-8484
When Rob Kampia, the 38-year-old founder of the fast-rising advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, decided he had to get the hell outta Washington, D.C., for a while, where did he turn? Austin. That's right, MPP Executive Director Kampia has made Austin his home base for most of the year. Kampia has been at the forefront of the medi-pot policy reform movement for just over a decade and his MPP – which has grown from three unpaid workers in 1994 to include a full-time staff of 31 – has been the force behind many of the pot-policy reforms since then. He's definitely an activist mover-and-shaker. And he definitely loves Austin.
We thought they were crazy. Get enough protesters out on a Saturday morning to link arms all the way around Northcross? We had visions of 20 people showing up and barely blocking the front door. Boy, were we wrong – enough neighbors of the now ex-mall showed up on Feb. 10 that they not only circled the mall but the entire block on which Northcross sat to show their displeasure with the Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for the property. The outcome of this particular fight remains uncertain – although the anti-Big Box Ordinance is a belated but real victory – but whatever happens, the heroes of RG4N are standing up not just for their own neighborhood but for a whole city and country still subject to the whims and bottom-line priorities of distant corporate bosses. Like they say, politics in Austin is a contact sport.
Last year, wearing a silk smoking jacket and pajamas, Wynn gave a teasing view of his manscape at a fashion show by our very own Stephen Moser. This year, he did a pulse-quickening Valentine's photo spread for Austin Fit magazine. He also whipped off his shirt for a dip and photo shoot in Town Lake. And most recently, he was featured in the September issue of Esquire wearing Prada and put on Elvis' jumpsuit for a performance of Allison Orr's dance production of The King and I. Let's face it, ladies, our eligible mayor can represent, if you know what we mean. Rrrowr!
As legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas – counsel on all statewide cases and recipient of 5,000 complaints a year – Graybill represents the last stand for the Bill of Rights and beyond in the Lone Star state. 2007 has been a busy year for the South Austin resident, as active cases on the ACLU docket have included successful challenges of prisonlike conditions at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor and unconstitutional Bible classes at high schools in Odessa. When not coming to the aid of a religiously persecuted Dallas Sikh, protesters of the war in Iraq in Crawford, and black voters in Austin, Graybill enjoys gardening and no-limit hold 'em poker.
The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association has dared to break the conventional mold for neighborhood associations. Where others reflexively fight infill development and growth, DANA has stepped into a centrist position of embracing well-designed projects, however tall, that advance community values and "the economic and cultural benefits of a vibrant, densely-populated Downtown." As such, DANA is beneficially shifting the dialogue in a more progressive direction for all neighborhood associations in Austin.
An Alabama native who’d gone AWOL during Vietnam to cut a record with some buddies, Brooks Brannon was primed for the whole cosmic-cowboy scene when he hit town in 1976 – just in time to play at the Soap Creek Saloon and befriend a who’s who list of Austin icons. Later, he took up residence at campus dive Hole in the Wall, where he remained till this spring, working sunup to sundown and holding court behind the bar to college kids, Austin City Limits staffers, and cranberry-and-soda veterans alike. He’s a bandanna-wearing, cigarette-rolling, natural-born storyteller who can tell you about the days when Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley would sit on the sidewalk outside the Hole waiting for it to open and when the Hickoids’ Jeff Smith regularly closed it down with an onstage self-depantsing. These days Brannon’s farther out of town, tending bar at Poodie’s (owned by longtime Willie Nelson stage manager Poodie Locke), but you can still catch him slinging drinks at the Hole on a Saturday night – or better still, playing onstage Friday nights and ready to trade a good story for a shot of Patrón Silver.
Brooks Brannon, Poodie's Hilltop Roadhouse, 22308 Hwy. 71 W., Spicewood, www.poodies.net