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2008CriticsPolitics & Personalities

Best AIDS Fundraising Couple
Mark Erwin & Stephen Rice

Mark Erwin (l) and Stephen Rice   photo by Seabrook Jones

Here, there, and everywhere, these two can be spotted at virtually every HIV-and-AIDS-related event in Austin, either on the boards, committees, or just as generous supporters. From the Octopus Club's Octo Tea Dance, ArtErotica, and Oscar and Rubber Ducky parties to AIDS Services of Austin's events (Erwin is a board member) such as the Red Ribbon Dinners and Viva Las Vegas to Project Transitions' Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the Holiday and Texas Swings, Stephen Rice and Mark Erwin work hard for those who can't.

Mark Erwin, 751-8190

Stephen Rice, 415-5721

Best Birthday Boy
LBJ Is 100!

"All the way with LBJ" said the campaign buttons our Sixties Democratic counterparts wore. More than 40 years after LBJ stepped down as president of the United States, Texas couldn't agree more. With the 100th anniversary of Johnson's birth, Central Texas pulled out all the stops: basking in the national congressional resolution marking the day; remembrances at his alma mater, the Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University); a special exhibit at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos; commemorations at the ranch in Stonewall, just west of Johnson City, of course; a 70-minute oration in Dallas focusing on a single day of his presidency; UT's LBJ Library's 100th birthday bash with barbecue and peach ice cream, which drew well more than 1,000 attendees; the lights in the UT Tower lit up to say 100; and the presidential library's exhibit outlining LBJ's contributions to the space program. Particularly on our minds due to his beloved Lady Bird's recent passing, the man who put the Texas stamp on the U.S. presidency is near and dear deep in this heart of Texas.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, 2313 Red River, 512/721-0200,

LBJ Museum of San Marcos, 131 N. Guadalupe, San Marcos, 512/353-3300,

LBJ Ranch, Stonewall, 830/868-7128,

Best Blogger Aptly Reppin' Austin's Bodacious Bike Culture
Jason Abels,

There's never been a shortage of commentary online and off from Austin's bombastic bike community, but not until this year's debut of the blog Austin Texas Bike … Stuff, or, did local pedal pushers have a forum focusing on the wild side of biking in Bat City. The clean-lined blog is a treasure trove of timely listings for stuff like Critical Mass rides, nighttime group cruises, underground alley-cat races, and pub crawls. Blogger Jason Abels doesn't just talk the talk, either. He's a fixture at most local cruises and guerrilla rides, typically supplying jams via a custom, bike-mounted sound system or a bigass boom box in tow. Abels, a tattoo-laden techie, is also quick with wry, insightful words on bike politics, from building better infrastructure to avoiding accidents with asinine motorists. In short, ATXBS is the best blog on two wheels.

Austin Texas Bike Shit,

Best Cabbie With a Cause
Hannah Riddering

You may have spotted this politically savvy woman of long, curly salt-and-pepper locks behind the wheel of her hybrid-fueled Yellow Cab or perhaps on the TV news, advocating for the transit rights of blind and disabled residents, who make up a good chunk of her customer base. There's a reason for that. Hannah goes the extra mile to make sure her special-needs fares get the most humane, efficient service that they deserve.

Hannah Riddering, Yellow Cab Austin, 10630 Joseph Clayton, Bldg. A,

Best Christmas Warriors
Environment Texas

A year ago, the Christmas Mountains were a just scrap of scrubland in far West Texas. But when the General Land Office tried to sell the property to private buyers, it was Environment Texas that first shook the branches, raised a firestorm of public protest, and made caring about public lands an act of Texas pride again.

Environment Texas, 815 Brazos #600, 512/479-0388,

Best Citizen Communicator
Paul Robbins

The publisher of the Austin Environmental Directory, Paul Robbins is a consistent force for progressivism in the city. A fixture at City Council's citizen communications, nearly every week this self-described consumer advocate and environmental activist challenges council members intelligently and directly in the three minutes he's allotted. Give 'em hell, Paul.

Paul Robbins, Austin Environmental Directory,

Best Defenders of Habeas Corpus
National Security & Human Rights Clinic

Forget empty rhetoric in vacuum-sealed classroom: This UT grad course puts students to work defending not just Guantánamo Bay detainees but the U.S. Constitution itself. Taking high-profile cases and real defendants all the way to the Supreme Court, this clinic's challenges of the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act are reminders that constitutional freedoms must be defended. Smeared as unpatriotic, its staff and students are passionate reminders of Ben Franklin’s words: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

National Security & Human Rights Clinic at UT Law, 727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/232-3657,

Best Evil Genius

Credit Whurley – also known as William Hurley, a visionary systems theorist, skateboarder, and self-proclaimed evil genius – with leading the efforts to form a community among Austin tech geeks. The chief architect of open-source strategy at BMC Software and the man behind BarCampAustin, Whurley is all about connecting people and encouraging involvement in collaborative projects so great things can happen.

Whurley, 788-5353,

Best Family-Friendly Septuagenarian
Planned Parenthood

This year marks the 70th year of operation for Austin's Planned Parenthood (also known as Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region) – and as much as things have changed (Have you heard? Birth control is legal now!), boy, they're a lot of the same (Have you heard? Some women have been refused birth control by their local pharmacists!). As such, it's nice to know Planned Parenthood is still around – here's to another 70 years for the group known for providing comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services to the women of Austin.

Planned Parenthood, 201 E. Ben White, 512/276-8000,

Planned Parenthood, 1823 E. Seventh, 512/477-5846,

Planned Parenthood, 9041 Research #250, 512/331-1288,

Best Fugitive
The Cargo Pants Longhorn Arsonist

Although there is a host of (mostly bad) official theories, nobody knows the identity of the man (men?) in the cargo pants and Longhorn gimme cap, who in June joined the long list of Texas outlaws by burning down the Governor's Mansion. What if you send a message and nobody knows what it is? We invite this year's favorite dipshit to turn himself in at the "Best of Austin" party, and we'll make certain he not only receives his reward but he gets a chauffeured drive to the hoosegow.

Best Law-Abiding Law Enforcers
Sheriff Greg Hamilton and the Travis County Sheriff's Office

Under newly enacted House Bill 2391, Sheriff Greg Hamilton and the TCSO have speedily implemented the cite-and-release law for various misdemeanors, thereby saving citizens unnecessary jail time and the taxpayers mucho administrative and incarceration dollars. We applaud the county forces for understanding the importance of the law and applaud their willingness to take appropriate action.

Travis County Sheriff's Office, 5555 Airport, 512/854-9788,

Best Midwives Tale
St. David's North Austin Medical Center

Nurse midwives and their advocates are thanking their lucky stars for Dr. Christina Sebestyen, an ob-gyn doc at St. David's North Austin facility, who moved mountains to give midwives a very real presence at the medical center – now the only local hospital that employs the collaborative Midwives Model of Care. That's what we call an exceptional delivery of services.

St. David's North Austin Medical Center, 12221 MoPac N., 512/901-1000,

Best Museum Muse
Leea Mechling

Behind every great group of artists, you'll find someone who cracks the whip. At the quirky South Austin Museum of Popular Culture (much as she did at the Armadillo World Headquarters), it's Leea Mechling who prods the museum board, balances the books, oversees the mailings, coordinates the schedule, helps curate the exhibits, writes the program notes, does all the detail work including catering for the receptions, and still makes sure there's toilet paper in the bathroom. Not exactly a glam job, but she fits it all in around her day job, which has included raising a family with artist Henry Gonzales.

Leea Mechling, South Austin Popular Culture Center, 1516-B S. Lamar,

Best Resource for Surviving the Future
Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew's 'Toolbox for Sustainable City Living'

The Rhizome Collective's Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew have spent years figuring out how to provide basic needs – food, water, waste management, energy, and shelter – through affordable, environmentally sustainable systems that not only have a Mr. Wizard-esque wow factor but will actually help city dwellers someday survive a future in which energy and food are less easy to come by. In doing so, Kellogg and Pettigrew have helped turn Rhizome into a busy hub of scientific experimentation, community organization, and education. And as if that weren't enough, they've now written a book, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living. If you don't have time to attend Rhizome's Radical Urban Sustainability Training workshop – where you learn, among other things, how to run your car on veggie diesel, cook with solar power, recycle human waste, and even construct your own wetland system to filter your washing-machine water – this new "Do-It-Ourselves Guide" is the next best thing.

The Rhizome Collective, 300 Allen, 512/385-3695,

Best Situation Room

Flash to any command center from the silver screen, and what comes to mind? Basically the streamlined, flat-screen-flanked CTECC, as it's acronymically known. Housed in a certified green building, the CTECC coordinates city, county, and transportation responses to major events – as they ably demonstrated once hurricanes Gustav and Ike made landfall earlier this year. And who even knows what they have underground?

City of Austin Office of Emergency Management, 5010 Old Manor Rd. #330, 512/974-0450,

Best Sleep-Deprived Volunteers
The Love of Food Catering Staff

Every Sunday, 6am, for the past three years, Lynne Samuelson and members of her catering crew have been feeding the homeless at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless with good food that is not only nutritional but truly made with love. The menu often features protein-packed gumbo, stews, casseroles, and chili, served hot and in portions generous enough to fill hungry stomachs. Remember, catering often involves late Saturday nights: These sleep-deprived volunteers really give from the heart. This is their own personal form of church.

The Love of Food Catering, 401-B Orchid, 512/476-2880

Best Spark on the Electric Utility Commission
Shudde Fath

"I like to do things that have relevance," this 91-year-old South Austin gal told us 10 years ago. A true believer in all things progressive, Shudde (pronounced "shoo-dee") is still running on her own brand of alternative energy: She recently marked her 31st year serving in her appointed position on the city's Electric Utility Commission.

Shudde Fath, City of Austin Electric Utility Commission, 721 Barton Springs Rd.,

Best Sports Executive
Phil Rawlins, Austin Aztex

With the 40-acre behemoth looming, Austin's always been a tough town for professional sports. And soccer? Well, football means one thing to the rest of the civilized world, but it means gridiron in Texas, and previous attempts in building amateur soccer here had ranged from optimistic to embarrassing. So Phil Rawlins had at least two strikes against him when he announced last year that he was bringing in not just one but two teams: an amateur development team (which started play this past summer) and a full pro team (kicking off next spring). So far, the Aztex president has made all the right moves: He assembled a deep and talented team on the field and in the front office, brought together various sides of Austin's fractious youth soccer community, hired a couple of world-class coaches in Wolfgang Suhnholz and Adrian Heath, won the toughest division in the 67-team Premier Development League, and drew a healthy crowd for home games. His position as part-owner of the Stoke City Potters in the English Premier League paid off big time, as the 145-year-old franchise was promoted this year to the English Premier League for the first time.

Phil Rawlins, Austin Aztex, 2720 Bee Caves Rd. #220,

Best Steward of Downtown Green Space
Charlie McCabe

As the executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation, Charlie McCabe knows balance is key. From overseeing improvements to Austin's ever-expanding trail system, the acquisition of land for park space, Republic Square enhancements, and Downtown park master-planning to the fundamental challenge of creating a symbiotic relationship between green space and urban space, it's heavy responsibility. Lucky for us to have just the right advocate to meet the task. Our trees, feet, bikes, dogs, tourists, and children are in responsible, honorable hands.

Charlie McCabe, 477-1566

Best Way to Get in a Celebrity's Mouth
Be a Garriott Cheek Swab

So, the world is ending, and our only hope is to send DNA samples of Earth's best and brightest to space in the hopes of being cloned. Maybe not, but that didn't stop NC Soft honcho Richard Garriott from busting through the stratosphere in a Russian commercial space flight last week armed with genetic material from the likes of Stephens Colbert and Hawking, Harry Knowles, and Patrice Pike, among others. What we wouldn't give to be one of those cheek swabs.

NC Interactive, 6801 Capital of TX Hwy. N., Bldg. 1 #102, 512/498-4000,

Easiest Donations
Charitable Auto Recycling

How has Charitable Auto Recycling been able to donate more than $4 million within the last six years to local charities? By turning trash into treasure. The Niederwald auction shop has figured out how to get the highest possible dollar value for donated vehicles, then turn that around into generous cash flow for local public-service groups. Auto donors can choose from a list of groups, such as Alzheimer's Association, the Wright House, El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission, Hospice Austin, and Any Baby Can, among others. And it's simple. Just call them up. No fees. No hassle. Just your car towed away for the benefit of others.

Charitable Auto Recycling, 12253 Camino Real, Niederwald, 512/398-5995,

Most Welcome New Celebrity
Uno the Beagle

photo by Bret Brookshire

Unpretentious, irreverent, and a bit of a ham – is Uno a typical Austinite or what? Technically he lives in Leander, but it’s not like we’re going to run into the pooch formally known as "K-Run’s Park Me in First" at the vet, right? We’re just proud the insanely charismatic 2008 winner of the Westminster Kennel Club’s Best in Show, perhaps with a little help from one of his longtime owners, Austinite Caroline Dowell, decided to settle down in our neck of the woods. Long may he bay.

Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show, Westminister Dog Show,

Sweetest Santas on the Scene
Alan Graham and Mobile Loaves & Fishes

photo by Kate X Messer

When Hurricane Ike ravaged the Gulf Coast last month, one of the first nongovernmental relief crews on the scene was Austin's Mobile Loaves & Fishes, with catering trucks loaded down with provisions and dozens of bighearted volunteers eager to get relief into the hands of the people. No surprise. This is old hat to this group, one of the first to transcend barricades and get on the ground in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005. Now, the title of this award was easy. MLF's founder and the fella who serves as Big Kahuna on so many of their road trips is Alan Graham, who doesn't even need to don red to be mistaken for that Claus dude. Like Santa, Alan also serves as a symbol, as Mobile Loaves & Fishes, with its weekly homeless outreach and its ongoing efforts to cloth and feed the world – one Austin corner at a time – represents a whole sleigh full of selfless Santas.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes, 9301 Hog Eye, 512/328-7299,

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