Politics & Personalities
1999 Readers Poll
1999 Critics Picks
Best (in Conceptual Stage) Multimillion-Dollar Public Project

With all the madness going on (and going in) around downtown these days, the plan to tear up the asphalt (and, we hope, Riverside Drive) around Auditorium Shores will create an invaluable place to get away from it all. The new performing arts center and civic auditorium will be the anchors for our very own version of Central Park.

Town Lake Park
920 W. Riverside

Best Avoidance Of An Insurrection

Last year, swimmers rebelled when the city announced it would close many of its pools the first week of August. This year, the city learned from its error and coughed up the dough necessary to lure enough lifeguards to stay on the job and keep 10 of its 47 pools open until the end of September. While this summer hasn't been as relentless as last year's, we applaud the city's foresight to help make the long hot ones a little more tolerable.

Dept. of Aquatics
901 W. Riverside

Best Bond Election Follow-through

Word has it that the specific numbers (15,000 acres; $65 million) on the watershed acquisition bond issue came from City Manager Jesus Garza. Thanks to approval from Austinites, and support from the council and important interest groups like the SOS Alliance and Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the city was able to all but complete purchase of the land, which will be permanently protected from development, within about a year's time.

Best City Bureaucrats

When a neighborhood demands a new or better park or library, these two (Strong at PARD, Gillum at Austin Public) are the guys who make it happen. With the massive building program demanded by last November's billion-dollar bonds, Strong and Gillum have lots of such demands on their plate. They deserve more thanks than they typically get for the parks and libraries we so love.

Best Council Member For The Money

Since he's already a state employee as a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Council Member Bill Spelman is prohibited by law from accepting his council salary. So the citizens of Austin are getting his thoughtful, logical services free of charge. With council salary hovering just above $30,000 a year, nobody's in it for the money, but Spelman's altruism goes the extra mile.

Bill Spelman
City Hall, 301 W. Second

Best Display Of Mayoral Athleticism

Austin may be home to some great sports celebs, but our mayor, well, let's just say his talents lie elsewhere. But that didn't stop him from taking on Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson in a 50-yard dash in June to celebrate the opening of the Yellow Jacket Track & Field facility. Still outfitted in his mayor's uniform - dress slacks, button-down shirt, and tie - Watson donned some running shoes for the sprint with the former Cowboys linebacker. It was a valiant effort. And when his legs gave out at the finish line, Hizzoner had a great excuse, telling the Statesman that he couldn't stand to beat Henderson, so he took a dive. So maybe he's not fleet of foot but hey, he's quick-thinking.

Kirk Watson

Best Elected Official In The Suburbs

Farrell is the mayor of Rollingwood, which though basically a Central Austin neighborhood was long known for its suburban animosity to the big city. Farrell is known for the reverse - working with, and not against, Austin on solutions to problems that anyone can see cross city limits.

Best Government Flack

We're not big on going through public information officers to get the company line, but this particular mouthpiece for the city of Austin is the real deal: She's low on spin and high on tracking down that elusive public official and making him or her call us back right away. Sometimes she'll follow up with a phone call to make sure the official really did call us back. When we need some obscure piece of information on deadline, we're fairly certain Michele - or one of the other friendly Public Info folks - will go to great lengths to get us what we need. To all those other public entities out there - take special note of how the city runs its well-oiled PIO machine.

Best Lobbyist For The Cause

Here's a woman who knows how to persevere against the odds. Every other year, Hardy-Garcia, the tireless executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, goes to bat for us in the rough and tumble world of the Texas Legislature. Homophobia be damned, Hardy-Garcia gets out there and gladhands with the best of them.

Dianne Hardy-Garcia
Equality Texas
Equality Texas

Best Outlet For Apartment-dwelling Do-gooders

We used to drive through cozy neighborhood streets lined with those blue bins full of beer bottles, plagued with guilt about our own wasteful ways. But those days of blue-bin envy are over since we began schlepping our reusables over to the Ecology Action gang. Located in the middle of town, they offer everyone outside the scope of the city's ever-growing recycling program (apartment complexes with over 100 units can now participate) a chance to do their part. Also, they recycle goodies the bin gods might reject, like paperboard and phone books.

Ecology Action of Texas
420 Kemp

Best Peace Brokers

Never in our wildest dreams did we think we'd be recognizing an environmental activist and a business booster in the same breath. In this rare instance, Save Our Springs Alliance prez Rather and former Greater Austin Chamber chair Gary Valdez deserve credit for staving off bloodshed during several weeks of excruciating (and at times virulent) mediation sessions between key players in the environmental and development communities. In the end, a truce of historic proportions was reached between three longtime warring factions: SOS, the chamber, and the Real Estate Council of Austin. The trio has vowed (and signed on the dotted line) to work toward land acquisition and conservation over the precious Edwards Aquifer.

Best Performance By A City Board Or Commission

Speaking of thankless jobs. The bond package ended up not being the entirely citizen-driven spending plan we were promised. But it did a much better job than it could have of funding genuine citizen priorities, instead of political or bureaucratic fantasies, and we give credit to Rev. Joseph Parker and his committee for navigating through turbulent waters.

Citizens Bond Advisory Committee

Best Performances By Neighborhood Organizations

The East César Chávez team tells us two things: You don't have to be well-off to have a vital neighborhood, and everyday citizens can contribute just as much as established activists. The Mueller neighbors teach us something else: When the experts and officials don't know what to do, the citizens will take over and make things happen. When you admire the New Mueller a few years hence, thank the neighbors, without whom it wouldn't have been possible.

East César Chávez Neighborhood Planning Team

Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition

Best Place To Dig For Artifacts Of Austin's Boys' Town

At the end of the last century, the former site of the hallowed club (and several blocks along that stretch of the lake) was home to an old-fashioned red light district. Before that, it was one of Austin's first settlements. So after you're finished grabbing a little piece of the Lunch, look a little deeper. There may be more than meets the eye.

Best Press Conference

A memorable small moment of political theatre. A diverse cast of sympathetic Austin neighborhood leaders. A bona fide villain in state Rep. Ron Wilson. A killer setting - Wilson's decrepit rental house off Springdale Road, directly under the Mueller flight path, with about a dozen jets screaming overhead, at low altitude, in less than 40 minutes. And sterling comic relief from local media types asking questions like, "What is it like to live near the airport?"

Best Project We Thought We Didn't Want

Now that the former Central City Entertainment Center, aka the Mitchell Dome, is here, we ask two questions: Why is a bowling alley different from a swimming pool? And what would have been a better use for the big hole in the ground at Rosewood & Hargrave? The Millennium may just help turn a former urban wasteland into a genuine urban village.

Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex
1156 Hargrave

Best Score By A Former City Council Member

If she and her neighbors in the downtown neighborhood hold out long enough, as much as half a million could be hers (and her hubby's) if a bulk deal between developers and the neighborhood goes through this year.

Save Our Springs Alliance
221 E. Ninth #300

Best Tag Team

These two Houston Democrats carried the day in the Texas Legislature when they refused to bow to political pressure from the right. Thompson and Ellis declined to strike the homosexual reference from their hate crimes bills in order to win over conservative lawmakers. The two African-American lawmakers insisted on standing united with all groups subjected to crimes of hate.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston
1100 Congress, Room CAP 3S.06

Rodney Ellis

Best Tag Team

These two Houston Democrats carried the day in the Texas Legislature when they refused to bow to political pressure from the right. Thompson and Ellis declined to strike the homosexual reference from their hate crimes bills in order to win over conservative lawmakers. The two African-American lawmakers insisted on standing united with all groups subjected to crimes of hate.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston
1100 Congress, Room CAP 3S.06

Best Trend At The Ballot Box

Sure, blame it on campaign finance limits. But boxes like Casis Elementary (or, further north, Anderson High School) always vote heavy, and did so again in May, and have electorates that take time to be informed. And they voted for Slusher, Goodman, and Griffith - who in their combined nine previous campaigns have never won these boxes - by sizable margins. We think this means something, and we like what it means.

Best Unsuccessful City Council Candidate

So who in their right mind (which already excludes some of last May's candidates) would go up against a popular and well-oiled incumbent? Maybe someone who genuinely cares about his city and has something to say. Of the several solid challengers, Ortiz did the best job of putting new ideas on the public agenda. We urge him to not be a stranger to local politics.

Best Voluntary Compliance With SOS

When HEB started clearing the corner of Brodie & William Cannon, we wondered, "Will the trees still be standing?" HEB did one better. They complied with SOS instead of seeking variances. The 60-acre site, built with recycled materials, is landscaped with native plants and includes a rainwater collection system. This hasn't encroached on their service or convenience one bit: They have a drive-through pharmacy and close parking for shoppers with children. In the store they added compact shopping baskets for those who aren't shopping for a large family. The store is open 24 hours and replaces the Westgate location.

7015 Village Center Dr., 512/502-8445
2400 S. Congress, 512/442-2354
2701 E. Seventh, 512/478-7328
10710 Research #200, 512/794-8221
6900 Brodie, 512/891-8900
11521 FM 620 N., 512/249-0558
2508 E. Riverside, 512/448-3544
201 FM 685 N., Pflugerville, 512/251-0002
1080 E. 290, Elgin, 512/285-4168
500 Canyon Ridge Dr., 512/973-8143
5808 Burnet, 512/453-8864
7112 Ed Bluestein #125, 512/926-1491
9414 N Lamar, 512/835-5400
600 W. William Cannon, 512/447-5544
6001 W. Parmer, 512/249-0400
5800 W. Slaughter, 512/301-9770

Best Way To Come A Crapper

Here's a deal for city water customers in pre-1991 homes still using old water-wasting toilets: Fill out a simple form and get a voucher for up to two free 1.6 gpf beauties in any shade of plain white you want. Before you poo-poo this offer based on the performance of early models, know that these are flush with the latest plumbing technology. Be a porcelain god on your new ULF throne.

Biggest Step Backward In Legislative Session

Austin attorney Sarah Weddington fought hard for a woman's constitutional right to choose, arguing her case before the Supreme Court at the tender age of 27. Too young for the court to take her seriously, some argued, but she won her case in Roe v. Wade. Now, Texas lawmakers are trying to keep other young women from taking control, passing a bill requiring doctors to notify parents before performing abortions for minors. Girls under the age of 18 have rights too, and one of those is the fundamental right to make the most private of all decisions on their own. We can't forget what Ms. Weddington established under the Constitution 26 years ago, because young as she was herself, she had the right idea.

Friendliest Council Staff Member

Next time you feel like you want to fight City Hall, you might try calling Council Member Bill Spelman's office first. Chances are you'll get his executive secretary, Frank Kopic, on the line, and you'll be chatting away happily before you know it. Frank remembers your name and your face, and always transfers you to the right person - on the first try.

COA / City of Austin
Housing Authority of the City of Austin, 1124 S. I-35, 512/477-4488
Urban Transportation Commission, 1501 Toomey, 512/457-4850
Water & Wastewater Utility, 625 E. 10th, 512/322-0101
City of Austin Service Center, 818 Springdale, 512/385-3999
Information Systems Department, 625 E. 10th, Ste. 900, 512/499-2880
Emergency Services, 2785 E. Seventh, 512/305-4000
Early Childhood Services Centex CCM, 2538 S. Congress, 512/326-9210
Building Services Department, 1905 E. Sixth, 512/476-2272
Fire Department, 1621 Festival Beach Rd., 512/495-1450

Most Improved Community Organization

For years, ANC was a loudspeaker that amplified individual neighborhood complaints into citywide issues. Not that this isn't sometimes what needs to be done, but with the Smart Growth challenge, ANC is aiming for a new role as the city's partner in finding solutions to these issues and implementing a truly citywide neighborhood agenda. We applaud and encourage the effort.

Austin Neighborhoods Council
PO Box 176, 512/499-0526
Village at Western Oaks Homeowners Association, PO Box 90613, 512/288-4626

Most Improved Government Agency

As long as Capital Metro spewed forth crimes and misdemeanors, it was easy to attack mass transit itself. Now, the antis have to explain why they think a totally auto-dependent city, choking on its own traffic and smog and far more expensive than it needs to be, is the American dream. If the New Cap Met does nothing else, it's given Austin the chance to have a genuine, and long overdue, discussion of transportation issues.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
2910 E. Fifth

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