Politics & Personalities
1998 Readers Poll
1998 Critics Picks
Best Brand-new Idea In Local Politics

Councilmember Willie Lewis is often misunderstood, but his Eastside TND plan is inspired. If the city's gonna get into the proverbial bed with private developers - which it's done for decades - doesn't it make sense for those deals to produce the projects we want (neo-traditional neighborhoods) in the places we want them (the storied Desired Development Zone) where the private sector is loath to go it alone (East Austin)? Makes sense to us.

Willie Lewis

Best City Bureaucrats

Watson is in charge of perfecting Austin's land-development process; Barrett oversees the neighborhood-planning project. Both have brought their projects off with prowess; without them and their teams, there ain't no Smart Growth in Austin, and because of them, we may in our lifetimes see a day when "development" is not synonymous with "battle."

301 E. Second, City Planning, 499-6380; Neighborhoods, 499-2648

Best Corporate Cooperation

This giant chipmaker and Austin's largest employer unwittingly became a successful test case for Smart Growth when it agreed to cancel a mega-expansion project on environmentally sensitive soil in southwest Austin. In earlier days, Motorola might have dug in its heels and vowed to fight for its right to build. But in this age of mediation, Motorola honchos agreed to sit down with city and environmental leaders to try and achieve a common ground. Within weeks, Motorola had gracefully bowed out of what would have been a really sweet real estate deal at Circle C and announced its intention to move into the city's "Desired Development Zone" in northwest Austin. In doing so, Motorola set an example of what it really means to be, as the over-used business phrase goes, "a good corporate citizen."

505 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Grandiose Vision

Considering we can't even have peace between City Hall and the County Courthouse, the Corridor Council's mission seems pretty rich: regional harmony, coordinated problem-solving, and shared investments from Salado to Floresville and Kerrville to La Grange. That is, until you consider the alternative (the status quo), and then add a few more decades of thoughtless, competitive growth, and realize that without just such regional cooperation, Central-South Texas will be pretty much unlivable.

Best Head Of The Class

When Ruth Kane started as principal of Lanier High School in 1993, she arrived at a dingy school marred by gangs and apathy. Five years later, the north Austin school became one of 18 secondary schools in Texas and 166 across the country to be named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education. The school was also one of five schools in the country to be awarded a special Sering Learning Award by the Department of Education for the school's peer learning, anti-violence, and science and environmental programs. Kane refused to allow the school's reputation to dictate its reality - a good lesson for teachers, students, and parents throughout the district.

Ruth Kane
Lanier High School
1201 Payton Gin

Best Kiss & Make Up

The May 2 bond election saw an unprecedented coalition of longtime political enemies, the environmentalists of the Save Our Springs Alliance and the business people of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. It did our souls good to see these brothers breaking bread together after the election night victory, but that will-we-or-won't-we vibe can sometimes turn an enemy into a paramour. Watch out, S.O.S. That sledgehammer behind the chamber's back just became a bouquet of roses.

Save Our Springs Alliance
221 E. Ninth #300

Austin Chamber of Commerce
210 Barton Springs Rd. Ste. 400

Best Looking Race For November

The governor's race is already over. The down-ballot races are for the most part, boring. At stake is command of the Texas Senate and a job that in some ways is more powerful than that of governor. As an added bonus, the winner of the race will occupy the governor's mansion if Gov. George W. Bush runs for, and wins, the White House in 2000. Sharp and Perry have a long history that goes back to their college days. The mud is already flying and it will only get worse, which always makes for good entertainment.

Rick Perry

John Sharp

Best Media Omnipresence

The guy is everywhere. Has a day gone by in the 15 months of his term that he hasn't been on the cover of the daily, a local news program, or the Sam & Bob show? Watson's savvy packaging of his personal image often extends to his political message. He calls press conferences at the drop of a hat and holds chatty off-the-record coffees for his media pals. The result? A stunning lack of criticism from all quarters.

Sen. Kirk Watson
Capitol Extension Room E1.804

Best New Addition At The Courthouse

Travis County will ring in the New Year by redoubling its commitment to crack down on domestic violence offenders. In January, the county's first Family Violence Court will open its doors with Mike Denton as the presiding judge. What's unique here is that the new court is one of only three in Texas (and one of maybe a couple of dozen in the entire country) dedicated to hearing cases solely pertaining to domestic violence. The idea is that a court of this nature will close the loophole that allows so many offenders back on the streets. A Family Violence Court is clearly one of Travis County's most socially progressive endeavors in recent history.

Best Out-of-Court Settlement

Commonly referred to as the Valentine's Day Incident, this long-running lawsuit stemmed from allegations that police officers had used excessive force against several youngsters in trying to quell a disturbance at an adult-chaperoned party. The incident threatened to create an irreparable chasm between East Austin African-Americans and the Austin Police Department. But only days before the case went to trial (its second), the plaintiffs, now teenagers, agreed to some pretty heady negotiations with Mayor Kirk Watson (a veteran trial lawyer) and other city officials. After a grueling marathon of talks, the parties emerged with a goodwill settlement - a scholarship fund for East Austinites and stepped-up community police efforts - that left all sides feeling warm and glowy.

Best Performance(s) By A Neighborhood Association (or Its Equivalent)

Last year at this time, North Central Austin was fighting an unwanted and noxious strip mall; now, it's helping create the most intriguing development project in Austin in at least two decades. Everyone is sick of hearing and talking about the Triangle, but it's hard to underrate the accomplishment of HPNA and NTP - once rivals, now partners - in turning that mess around.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Association
PO Box 49427

Best Place To Eavesdrop And/Or Gossip

Wanna be there when the deal is sealed? Want to watch as one campaign plots to overthrow the other? Want to catch up on the latest gossip with state senators, judges, city councilmembers? Well, stroll yourself into this joint and you're sure to get the skinny on more than just your latte.

Best Political Fashion Model

Last year she had the bad boys of late night television eating right out of her hand, and this year she's showing up in print ads modeling Anne Klein designs in photographs by Annie Leibowitz. You never can tell where our beloved former guv will show up next, but you can bet your ass it won't be boring.


Best Public Performance In The Hot Seat

As designated apologist for the City Council's annexation campaign last fall, Futrell went toe-to-toe daily with a disgruntled citizenry often not inclined to trust city staffers or listen to reasoned debate. But the countless hours she spent answering barbed questions and refuting protesters point by point didn't cause Futrell to lose her civility or composure. She took on all comers, leaning into the microphone with a posture of readiness and conviction that lent her, and the city as a whole, credibility. Phone calls from the press were returned from the car and after hours. No matter what your opinion about the annexations, Futrell's performance as a public servant was unimpeachable.

Best Reason (maybe) To Move Into A Downtown Loft

No matter what your ideal vision of Downtown Austin may be, the current, flood-ravaged, unsafe and unsavory Waller Creek ain't part of it. With the Tunnel, we can bring downtown renewal - however defined - east of Congress Avenue, where it's most needed, while protecting public safety and water quality and protecting millions of dollars of public tax-supported investment. Everything's a boondoggle until you find one that makes sense.

Best Resource For Local Lore

God loves a reference librarian, and so do we. Housed in elegant digs, the Austin History Center is home to one of the premier local history collections in the nation, managed by a staff as knowledgeable as they are kind. The best news? Proposed cuts to the center's budget were never put in place, giving us all more hours to nose around the collection. There's gold in them thar stacks.

Austin History Center
810 Guadalupe

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Unsung East Austin Visionary

As president of Austin's oldest college for the past 10 years, Joseph T. McMillan has unshakeable faith in HT's bright future, not to mention a humble attitude which drives him to serve the needs of Eastside. His afterschool learning programs have helped hundreds of kids stay off the streets and make college a realization. His open arms to the Eastside community have also made the college a cultural hub for African-Americans.

Huston-Tillotson University
900 Chicon

Best Use Of Zoning To Make A Difference

There's nothing like a symbolic victory, especially when its results are more than just symbolic. The City Council achieved both goals when it effectively shut down the "Tank Farm," which housed first gasoline tanks, and later used tires, in a residential East Austin neighborhood. Locals fought the dump for over eight years, and the rezoning served as an indication that the council might extend Smart Growth to the Eastside after all.

Bravest Councilmember

It takes some real guts to oppose the über-popular coalition builder Mayor Watson, but Griffith has not backed down from a fight yet. She wins some, she loses some. Sometimes she's even dead wrong. But at least she never cowers in the face of political opposition and in this era of council oneness that individualism is a feat in itself.

Beverly Griffith
Griffith Properties
1206 W. Sixth

Coolest City Planning Pipe Dream

Visualize a bridge to the 21st century. Or how about just a footbridge over Town Lake? Sound pretty awesome? Now what if that footbridge could take you from a SAMI Show to a dessert and coffee in the cavernous art deco interior of the converted Seaholm power plant? Not nifty enough? Then what about taking the light rail to the Seaholm stop and casually strolling over the lake to catch the symphony at Palmer? This fantasy coming soon to a city near you.

Seaholm Power Plant
214 West Ave.

Most Eye-Popping Public Performance

They work hard, they play hard. As if the May 2 bond election hadn't already been a night to remember, with business leaders and environmentalists offering mutual congratulations for the victory of Smart Growth, Watson, Slusher, and Garza were each coaxed to take the dance floor at Save Our Springs Alliance's headquarters. We made no mention of any "rhythmic shortcomings" then, and won't now, offering only that it was a golden moment in the city's social history.

Sen. Kirk Watson
Capitol Extension Room E1.804

Daryl Slusher
Eighth & Colorado

Jesus Garza

Most Improved Community Project (and We Really Mean It This Time)

For nearly three years, the folks around 11th and 12th streets told all who would listen that until they had a voice in the "revitalization" of their own neighborhoods, nothing good would happen. They were right. Now that the city has imposed democracy on the ARA, the project is rolling full-steam ahead, toward a renewal plan that people actually want and need.

Austin Revitalization Authority
1105 Navasota

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Most Vigilant Advocates For Public Health Care

When these two longtime activists approach the podium in council chambers to offer advice or criticism for the city's operation of public health care, officials stop thumbing through their notebooks and listen. Plainly driven by the conviction that health care is a right for both rich and poor, Flynn and Schmidt practice civil, measured, but frank discourse regarding the medical needs of disadvantaged citizens, refusing to let them be forgotten amidst high-minded privatization reforms. Flynn and Schmidt represent social activism at its most sincere and engaged level.

Charlotte Flynn
3710 Cedar St., Box 15, Room 223

Venola Schmidt

Raddest Mayoral Performance

Is our mayor cool or what? Stylin' in his baggy pants and backwards baseball cap, Watson stole the show when he borrowed a BMX bike and made a beeline for the nearest vertical curve. Sure, it landed him flat on his backside in front of a whole nation of viewers, but what are politicians for if not a good laugh?

Sen. Kirk Watson
Capitol Extension Room E1.804

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