Politics & Personalities
2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks
Best Advice, 1995

On her way out of office, Richards marked a Bible passage for the newly inaugurated Gov. George W. Bush: "Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph."

Ann Richards
www.tsl.state.tx.us

Best Answer to Jail Overcrowding

Getting out of jail is one thing, but staying out of jail – now that’s the ticket. Enter jail diversion programs, including ATCMHMR's blessed approach to managing crisis situations that could, in some cases, land someone in the tank. A fairly new member of the MHMR portfolio is the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team – sort of a mental health ambulance – which works in conjunction with the police and sheriff’s departments to provide curbside emergency assistance. That beats three hots and a cot any day.

Austin Travis County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center
1430 Collier
512/447-4141
www.atcmhmr.com

Jana Birchum

Best Comeback

"Pat Said Ha!" should be the tagline for this political consultant's recovery from a massive stroke suffered in July 2008. The doctors told Pat's family she would likely spend the rest of her days in a nursing home. But thanks to intensive "boot camp" therapy at Austin Speech Labs and support from family and friends, the impish Pat did what she has spent a lifetime helping others do: She defied the odds. Today, Pat is back to doing what she does best – calling the shots.

www.patcrow.com

Best Cool Down With a Cold One

Baby, it's hot, hot, hot outside. And what better way to cool off than with a cold beer? There's no better way than sipping on the coldest beer in Austin. And for that, you have to head to Rabbit's Lounge. Owned by former Austin High QB Rosaleo "Rabbit" Gonzalez Duran, this East Sixth Street beer joint has been serving 'em up chilly-ass cold since 1969. Steeped in Austin history – Rabbit is a native Austinite who remembers well the lush gardens that stretched east on Seventh Street past Pleasant Valley, across the site that now houses a strip mall anchored by an H-E-B – and brimming with the down-home central-city friendliness that brings regulars back and entices drop-ins to stop by, Rabbit's is a truly original place. And if you like baseball – especially if you know what makes Cooperstown, N.Y., special – this place will quickly feel like home.

Sandy Carson

Best Fiction Writer, 1995

It's a tie between her novel and her bill. A Perfect Match was the title of Combs' first steamy soft-porn novel, but it wasn't her first stab at fiction. Claiming her "takings" bill wouldn't harm Austin, other cities, or the state, Combs was victorious in both the House and Senate in winning for landowners the right to sue if government regulations lowered the value of their land by at least 25%. The governor signed on in late June. It didn't come out until after the Senate vote, but a report by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) found that the bill will cost us "millions." Maybe Combs should have done the taxpayers a favor and given up her day job.

Best Film Resource

If you had to put a face on Texas film's indie spirit, you couldn't do much better than Bryan Poyser, Austin Film Society's director of artist services. Whether traveling the state spreading the word about the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund or writing and directing his own films (using local talent, natch), Bryan has become Texas film's central clearinghouse … and its biggest cheerleader.

Austin Film Society
1901 E. 51st
512/322-0145
www.austinfilm.org

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Loan Arrangers

Seems like people need PeopleFund, the civic-minded opportunity-creators (that’s Community Development Financial Institution, in economist-speak). Whether it’s providing cash for local entrepreneurs, backing affordable housing programs, or organizing the East Austin business summit and the PeopleTalk civic speaker program, this nonprofit loan outfit has become a real credit to the community.

PeopleFund
207 Chalmers
512/472-8087
www.peoplefund.org

Best Mayor of South Austin

Born in South Austin. Raised in South Austin. Works in South Austin. Lives in South Austin. What better qualifications for the new mayor of South Austin, a position that's languished since the untimely passing of Danny Roy Young last year? Jovita's Mayo Pardo devotes as much of his time to his family and community as he does to being an activist/restaurateur. Seeing as how Eddie Wilson still holds the title of mayor of North Austin, it's clear we like our music and our food.

Best Municipal Rocker

The demands of being a City Council aide are tough enough – with a scant seven council members for a city of almost 800,000, aides act as de facto council members themselves, sussing out the issues for each office. Despite the workload, Bobby Garza, family man and executive assistant to Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, finds time to – what else? – rock. He's a singer and percussionist with reunited Latino indie rockers Maneja Beto and also sat on the high-profile Live Music Task Force. Crank the agenda up to 11, Bobby!

The Office of Mike Martinez
PO Box 1088
512/974-2264
www.cityofaustin.org/council/martinez.htm

Best New Family-Friendly Government Offices

Behind the bureaucratic-sounding names of these newly minted Travis County offices is a decidedly down-home community of caring public servants. The offices provide legal representation for parents and children involved in Child Protective Services cases, a good-government endeavor that aims to strengthen its accountability to we the people while helping little and big folks in need of a hand.

Office of Child Representation
205 W. Ninth #240
512/854-7312
www.co.travis.tx.us

Office of Parental Representation
209 W. Ninth #270
512/854-7305
www.co.travis.tx.us

Best On-Air Mayor of East Austin

As long as honorary mayoral roles are being assigned, Isidoro Lopez is an excellent candidate for East Austin. As host of the long-running local cable television program Fiesta Musical on Channel 16, Lopez specializes in in-depth interviews with movers and shakers from the Latino community. On his KOOP radio show of the same name, Lopez likewise keeps the music and discussion hot. At 70, he is also a board member of the Austin Latino Music Association and the leading voice in integrating Tejano music into Austin's vaunted music scene.

KOOP 91.7FM
3823-B Airport
512/472-1369
www.koop.org

Best Pride Guiders

It's a thankless job. Literally. No matter what you think – or what you think you know – about this past year's Pride weekend and the unfortunate bit of circumstance that immediately followed it all, the event remains one of the best and most warmly received Prides in Austin history. And there are many reasons for this, but two very important reasons in particular were never properly thanked. The past president and a former board member of the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Flannigan and Ceci Gratias, respectively, were – for so many folks involved behind the scenes at this year's Pride – the event's front line, the friendly faces making the connections and making it happen. And while this award doesn't even begin to express so much of the community's heartfelt gratitude for their upbeat manner and Sisyphean industry, we hope it does makes clear to them that they are loved. We also hope this might serve as the first in many steps toward closure and moving forward, ensuring bright futures (with heaps of gratitude) for both Jimmy and Ceci.

Site Street
3009 N. Lamar Ste 3
512/832-8383
www.sitestreet.com

Jana Birchum

Best Proof You Can Fight City Hall

Instantly recognizable by his gray ponytail, Jack Kirfman is a ubiquitous presence around City Hall. As political action coordinator for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Kirfman has worked tirelessly for years on behalf of civilian city employees, fighting cuts and preserving services. Plus, he also finds time to consult on a number of causes, like he did on Austin's big-box ordinance. So next time someone tries to badmouth the city, tell 'em: You don't know Jack.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1624
7901 Cameron, Bldg. 2, #300
512/477-5544
www.afscme1624.org

Best School Savers

TEA Commissioner Robert Scott said to close it, but the parents, teachers, and students of Pearce Middle School rallied around their beloved neighborhood school. Sure, there were leaders, including Austin Independent School District trustee Cheryl Bradley, Michael Lofton of the African American Men and Boys Conference, and Allen Weeks of the St. John Neighborhood Association, but it took an entire community getting behind the repurposing plan to build the momentum that kept the doors from shuttering. Like their motto says, "Success is the only option!"

Pearce Middle School
6401 N. Hampton
512/414-3234
www.austinisd.org/schools/details.phtml?id=038

Best Undead Lobbying

It can be hard to get a bill noticed in the Legislature. Heralding the end of analog TV broadcasts and the growing mounds of ancient TV sets, Texas Campaign for the Environment took a page from the national Take Back My TV campaign by summoning the living dead. Dressed as zombies, they groaned their support on the Capitol steps for the small-screen recycling terms in House Bill 821. When Gov. Perry vetoed it, they went shambling back again, calling for his braaaaaains.

Texas Campaign for the Environment
611 S. Congress #200
512/326-5655
www.texasenvironment.org

Best Unsung East Austin Visionary, 1998

As president of Austin's oldest college for the past 10 years, Joseph T. McMillan has unshakable 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
512/505-3139

Jana Birchum

Best Way to Keep Guns Off Campus

Sometimes the easiest thing to do with a tragedy is to walk away. But when it looked like the gun lobby was going to get its way with House Bill 1893, which threatened to bring concealed guns into university buildings, UT grad student John Woods, a Virginia Tech alum who lost friends in the 2007 massacre, and the other members of Students for Gun Free Schools stepped up and became the Texas voice of the movement to keep firearms out of institutions of higher learning.

Students for Gun Free Schools
100-C W. Dean Keeton
512/850-5824
texas.gunfreeschools.org

Best Way to Keep the Conversation Going

Since building an $8 million community center in East Austin two years ago, the folks at Southwest Key have been awfully busy – teaching GED and computer skills courses, offering cultural arts programs, housing the Boys and Girls Club, and serving up tacos out of its on-site restaurant, Cafe del Sol, among other things. (And just last month, they were awarded a $2.1 million federal grant, with which they'll be expanding the center – and the services offered there – even further.) But they haven't been too busy, luckily, to kick things up a notch this summer with their East Austin Summer Speaker Series, which handed the mic to such community leaders as PODER's Susana Almanza and former Mayor Gus Garcia. They discussed gentrification, education, the history of area activism, and other topics near and dear to Austin's fastest growing and historically most underserved segment of the city – issues that are by no means new, but by no means going away, either. We applaud their efforts to keep that conversation going within the community while also addressing some of the everyday, nuts-and-bolts issues that ultimately affect all of us.

Southwest Key Programs
6002 Jain
512/462-2181
www.swkey.org

Hardest Working Vato in the Music Biz

Remember last year when ME Television started to go down in flames and laid off everyone? Well, ME TV is still around (barely), and when it started to get its act together, the first thing it did was rehire VJ Paul Saucido. Even if ME TV goes away, Saucido will survive. VJ job? He don't need no stinkin' VJ job! As soon as the ground started to crumble, Saucido went to work on his own website (www.saucidoslant5.blogspot.com), provided regular commentary on Indieoma.com, hosted music shows all around town, and generally worked it. Most people would have ditched Austin. (In fact, Saucido pulled a good April Fools' prank on Facebook when he announced that he was leaving Austin and going back to Los Angeles. The response was swift, forlorn, and heartfelt. Funny, Paul. Very funny.) Who knows what's going to happen at ME TV. But for Saucido, the only way to land is feet first, facing the sky.

ME Television
channel 15
www.metelevision.com

Most Approachable City Department Director

City parks are for the people, and so is new Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley. She's personally out meeting with park users and nature lovers all around town, tackling tough challenges head-on, telling the truth, raising the bar, advocating for better funding, and ultimately rebuilding citizen trust through candid outreach and responsiveness. While the city has built a roster of dynamic new department directors of late, Hensley takes the prize for populist public engagement.

Austin PARD
200 S. Lamar
512/974-6700
www.austintexas.gov/parks

Most Diversified Portfolio

What would your life look like if you could focus your energy on your favorite things and then become an expert in all of them? With a résumé that reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, MisoHungry Makes It With Moonshine blogger and veritable modern Renaissance woman Jennie Chen might know exactly what that feels like. MisoHungry is primarily foodie-focused, touching on topics such as cooking and baking with alcohol, specifically local craft brews, as well as restaurant reviews, food event notices, and cheerleading her own favorite delicious finds. She's probably best known for throwing this year's Cupcake Smackdown, pitting local purveyors of the delightful nibblies in a copious contest of crumb. But hold on to your leash! Chen is also the force behind Keep Austin Dog Friendly, an informative website listing dog-friendly restaurants, businesses, off-leash park locations, dog events, and more. Not impressed? Chen also created the Austin Drive Clean group, open to anyone "who wants to learn how to live green and drive clean." And dig this: While Chen's not practicing fuel-efficient driving, spending time with her pooch, or flashing her local foodie-finess, she splits her time as a DNA collector for the University of North Texas Health Science Center, through which she has worked with the Texas Attorney General and state law authorities, and as a research assistant and graduate lecturer at Texas A&M. So you have a choice: Look at what Jennie Chen has accomplished as inspiration to follow your own dreams, or sink deeper into that couch, potato, and give up now.

www.misohungrynow.blogspot.com
www.austindogfriendly.blogspot.com
www.austindriveclean.com

Most Missed Iconic Hair Salon Dynasty

It's the beginning of the end of an era. Deborah Carter and her dynasty of daughters Farah and Brooke shut the doors at the très popular SoCo landmark Pink Hair Salon & Gallery in July, 10 years after they redefined what South Congress was all about. Deborah was always a woman of immense intuition, and she knew when it was time for her to move on to other pursuits. Pink's bubble-icious neon sign will no longer light up the night. We may be sorry to have lost the salon, but are richer for the experience of having had it.

Pink Hair Salon & Gallery
1204 S. Congress
512/447-2888
www.pinkaustin.com

Todd V. Wolfson

 
Critics: Outdoors & Recreation
Critics: Services