Politics & Media
2016 Readers Poll
2016 Critics Picks
Best Beauty Campaign

Skin-lightening cosmetics like "Fair and Lovely" have been anything but for the millions of people who have bleached their skin in an effort to fit racist and colorist standards of beauty. So UT student Pax Jones decided to flip the narrative. Unfair and Lovely started as a breathtaking photo series with classmates Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah, but soon it became an international social media campaign. Since March, their hashtag went viral and thousands of people have let their melanin shine. Talk about getting under the skin.


Best Behind-Closed-Doors Rant

Acevedo was reportedly peeved that one of his commanders secretly taped an Aug. 10 meeting, in which he went off on the February David Joseph shooting and spoke his mind about what sort of awesome responsibility it is to be a cop, but the public surely appreciated it. The Chief of Police was the talk of the town for at least a week after the Statesman’s story detailing the meeting broke. “We have got to raise our game,” he said. “If you can’t handle a kid in broad daylight, naked, and your first instinct is to come out with your gun, and your next instinct is to shoot the kid dead, you don’t need to be a cop.”

715 E. Eighth

Best Breaking News Reporter

You know those reporters who rarely sleep? Who never eat? Who only exist to write, report, and fire off new tweets? That, it seems, describes the composition of Texas Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek, whose byline shows up endlessly on the political site’s pages. Take Oct. 13, for example. Svitek had a hand in the production of five stories: on Texas’ Ethics Commission, the presidential race, a congressional campaign, state finance reports, and a forecast of the state’s economy. The next day he filed two more, and posted who knows how many little nuggets on Twitter. A man this busy deserves our recognition.


Best Call for Police Reform

Fatima Mann wasn't supposed to speak at the Capitol memorial for the Dallas police officers killed in mid-July. In all likelihood, the Austin Justice Coalition co-founder wasn't even supposed to be standing with event organizers. But there she was, beckoned to the front and provided the opportunity to speak by Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday. During the rousing, uncomfortable few minutes in which she spoke, Mann cut to the heart of the strained relationship between law enforcement and black communities, evoking the evils of bad cops, and the need to root them out. It was unexpected and perhaps unwelcomed by those in attendance. It was also courageous in its delivery, wholly necessary, and true.

Counter Balance: ATX: 860/785-0877

Best Community Warriors

Some talk the talk, but GAVA walks the walk, quite literally when they go door to door engaging residents to learn and address the needs of two of Austin's most marginalized areas. Focusing on the health of their neighbors, they have made significant strides in developing park spaces and introducing neighborhood farm stands. But their work also goes well beyond, encompassing education, community organizing, and infrastructure. Whether they are spearheading a fitness event or simply being willing to listen, GAVA activists pound the pavement in 78744 and 78745, making a tangible difference in people's lives.

2512 S. I-35

Best Craft Beer Revolutionaries

You might have heard that the craft beer scene in Austin has some nice things going for it: shiny new taprooms, national awards, maniacal line-standing weirdos ... and a quartet of beer media champs bringing all that self-congratulatory, back pattin' hype to you in a clever, semi-annual glossy reminiscent of those rad Nineties post-punk fanzines dedicated to niche-grade bands like Skinny Puppy. But apart from all their great beer scribing, ABG creates the craft dialogue in the form of Lager Jam in the summer and a best-of awards in the winter, not to mention some pretty slayworthy guide-release parties.


John Anderson

Best Drag Mother

If RuPaul Charles needs a seasoned girl for the next Drag Race, we encourage him to look to Austin City Hall. This year, our mayor turned it out as Ballet Austin's guest star. With a face beat for the gods, our municipal mawma may have mopped some style tips from the kweens who came before her – Mae West, Phyllis Diller, Nellie Oleson – but the fierce finishing touches and that body-ody-ody are all Ginge. There's no way she wouldn't slay the competition.

301 W. Second

Best Graceful Exit

For nearly a decade, City Manager Marc Ott quietly but steadily managed the business of the city, a major enterprise with roughly 13,000 employees and no "products" beyond energy, water, transportation, public safety, public health … the entire range of city services, where every "customer" is an expert. Ott helped weather the Great Recession as well as any official in the country, in a self-deprecating way that yet opened the city's books and processes as never before. His leaving for a D.C./international job is as quiet and dignified as his tenure. Austin should wish him well.

Austin City Hall
301 W. Second, Third Floor

Best House Grinder

Having served in the Lege for a decade, Rep. Howard has endured the progressive long march under GOP domination with patience and determination. On her signature issues of education and health care, she has done her best to blunt the edge of relentless budget-cutting, and has been one of the foremost defenders of women's reproductive rights and real family values. It's been a grind, yes, but her good sense and good humor continue to carry her through – God and the voters willing, the 85th session will bring real allies, real change.

Rep. Donna Howard
State Capitol, Rm. E1.420
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768

Best Life Preserver for Austin's Musical History

Hamblin wasn't born in Austin (or the United States for that matter) but is a force in keeping the city's musical legacy alive as the Austin History Center's video archivist. The AHC's YouTube page's breadth of Austintatiousness is both grin-inducing and sigh-creating: Daniel Johnston warning not to drink and drive; Greezy Wheels performing at the Armadillo in 1975; Jesse Sublett and the Murray brothers as the purple-album version of the Skunks performing in a very Eighties music video; Texana Dames; Dr. Hepcat; Bells of Joy; Beto; Omar. Hamblin deserves our endless praise and prodding to keep the vids a-coming.


Best Lifetime Achievement

After fighting the good fight for decades, at the Capitol and City Hall, the Man Known as Smitty is ready to step down from his leadership role at Public Citizen Texas, pass the baton on to other folks, and take a break from tireless advocacy for clean air, clean energy, clean government, and a sustainable future. He has earned a very long vacation – perhaps wandering the world a bit to imagine a livable future – but we expect before long he'll resume the role of public citizen (without portfolio). We'll certainly welcome him back.

Public Citizen Texas
309 E. 11th #2

Best Local DIY, Collaborative, Women's Zine

Inspired by the riot grrrl movement, Hysteria Zine is a semiregular publication created by and for women that brings the punk feminist ethos of the Nineties into the present day. In addition to the print issue highlighting literary and visual works, Hysteria hosts events "for female-identifying people to share their art without judgement," including artist markets, live music, and a "Treat Yo' Self" Valentine's dance party.


Best Long-Term Legislator

It’s hard to think of Austin Democrats without Elliott Naishtat. Yet after 26 years the soft-spoken, hardheaded dean of the Travis County delegation is headed to a well-earned retirement. A principled pragmatist that even hard-line conservatives could never ignore, he authored literally hundreds of bills that have improved the lives of Texas’ most needy and defenseless, and fought the good fight on issues like medical marijuana when everyone else called it a lost cause. We’ll see you in the buffet line, Elliott.

P.O. Box 2910, Austin

Best New Voice

Fresher than Will Smith circa 1991, Azra Siddiqi – founder of Wise Up TX – is werkin' hard to increase voter engagement through social media and through her podcast. With the perfect mix of sass and well-timed snark, Azra's mission is simple: to educate South Asians, millennials, and anyone willing to listen about what's going on in local and national politics.


Jana Birchum

Jana Birchum

Best News 411

Daniel, the weekday afternoons guy on 96.3 FM RnB, has the kind of voice that balances apathy with fascination, and adjusts on nearly every word. He can sound impassioned while rushing through a segment or damn near careless when talking slowly. It’s a gift that plays out most effectively when he’s delivering the 411, his intermittent news report, in which he interjects so many ad-libs and “details are on our Facebook” quips that the value is not in the news getting reported, but rather the way in which it’s delivered. We work for a newspaper and read news all day, every day – yet still on our drives home from work each day, we can’t help but tune in to Snoop.


Best NSFW Podcast

Our bodies are the vehicle through which we experience the world, so naturally, exploring the way we talk about them can lead to great insights. At least that's the hope of podcast host Jené Gutierrez. Her provocative interviews dive deep into topics like insecurity, dieting, dating, and self-love, chewing the fat with distinguished authors, comedians, professors, sex workers, and recent Reddit celeb Double Dick Dude, and giving new definition to the phrase "body politic."


Jana Birchum

Best Poker Face

In the great 2016 battle over ride-hailing, a City Council majority stoutly defended Austin's authority to regulate transportation network companies, but as chair of the transportation committee, Council Member Kitchen took far more than her share of heat. Uber and Lyft tried viciously to turn her into the face of counter-tech-revolution, and through it all she maintained her equilibrium and her determination to uphold public safety and find a rational way forward, despite the attacks. Kitchen never wavered and never flinched – and the overwhelming vote to uphold city regs arrived as a vindication.

Council Member Ann Kitchen
City of Austin
301 W. Second

Best Pony Express

City of Austin communications staff walk a delicate line between public information and policy advocacy, All-Info-to-All-People and Are-You-Kidding-Me? David Green has been a breath of very fresh air in an official culture accustomed to extreme caution and self-protection. He (and several of his PIO colleagues) have followed the march from At-Large to 10-1 with long hours, dedication, patience, and – most of all, a permanently wry sense of humor. He rides the communication pony, with grace.

City of Austin
Public Information Office:
301 W. Second

Best Real-Life Superheroes

Superheroes do exist, but in the real world they tend to look more like the staff of Austin’s SAFE Alliance than Wonder Woman. The umbrella nonprofit that now connects SafePlace and Austin Children’s Shelter works tirelessly to offer shelter and emotional and legal support for domestic violence and rape survivors. And as if that wasn't enough, SAFE spent the better part of the summer fighting to rid Austin of our extensive backlog of untested rape kits. On September 14, they won, and City Council earmarked $1.4 million into the yearly budget to assure that those kits are a priority. And all that without any golden lassos.


Best Referee in the Taco War

As the former Austin American-Statesman food critic, Sutter handled the beat with style and depth before parting ways and concentrating on his likable blog Fed Man Walking. He's now at the San Antonio Express-News where, on National Taco Day, he diagrammed Austin-born Torchy's: reasons it both sucks and doesn't. If there is to be a Taco War truce, his deft prose will lead the cease-fire.


Best Snapchat Game

Yes, we all love swapping faces, and those voice-changing animal filters are a delight, but the Texas Tribune proves Snapchat can also be serious. Their coverage of the anniversary of UT's Tower Shooting used archival shots to show how the events unfolded in real time, illuminating history for a new generation, while simultaneously reflecting on the present-day campus carry controversy. Adding them lets you join the conversation about Texas policy and politics. It's a much better use of your time than following your #blessed former frat bro.

823 Congress #1400

Best Women's Health Truth-Tellers

State spin and legislator lies abound in the quest to destroy women’s health care in Texas, but thanks to UT-Austin based Texas Policy Evaluation Project, pro-choice advocates have the facts on our side. The multi-year research project tracking the damage done by the Lege’s reproductive health laws have given a barrage of peer-reviewed proof to counteract the state’s fallacious claims that their laws are protecting women’s safety. TxPEP research even made its way into this summer’s historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of Texas anti-choice law, House Bill 2. Keep it comin’, TxPEP – in an era of truthiness, we appreciate the cold hard facts.


Todd V. Wolfson

Best Women's Rights Warrior

After battling on the front lines of the state’s war on women as the Texas Latina Advocacy Network’s policy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, DeFrates brings her repro rights warrior creds to the Austin Commission for Women (nominated by D3’s Pio Renteria). This year, DeFrates, along with a host of dedicated advocates, including rape survivors and community leaders, pressured City Council to prioritize sexual assault within the city budget. Their efforts resulted in a commitment from APD to end the backlog of forensic rape kits sitting on shelves. DeFrates has also been developing a crop of young progressive leaders in Austin through her work with the New Leaders Council. A nonprofit consultant, DeFrates continues to advocate for repro rights and justice on the state level, and we’re excited to see what more she’ll help accomplish citywide.


Best Wonks

Who chairs the Planning Commission? What’s the fate of Lone Star Rail after the most recent CAMPO meeting? What’s happening with the city’s arts bond? Where did Travis County Commissioners go for lunch? (We’re half kidding about the last one.) Austin’s big, and Travis County’s even bigger. We’re grateful to the Monitor for their commitment to covering the multitude of meetings and presentations that fill the local political calendar every day. Anybody with a stake in our rapidly growing home should feel the same.


Most Crucial History

Here's a complicated question: Having once been a slave city, can Austin ever completely heal? One of the best places to ponder this question is the Sneed Plantation, a ruin in Southeast Austin that was funded by slave owners and built by slave hands. The plantation was torched in the Eighties but its skeleton is still there. It's only a matter of time before it's replaced (disappeared) by condos. Bear witness before it's too late.

1801 Nelms

The Coolest Campaign for Safer Sex

AIDS Services of Austin's Mpowerment Project, The Q, has always been devoted to making safer sex cool, but their latest campaign is downright frosty. Paleteria Póntelo is an ice cream cart with a mission, serving playfully-illustrated bilingual pamphlets, condoms, lube, and all your favorite paletas. Through cultural consciousness and levity, it elegantly provides sexual health outreach to a population too often left out in the cold.

The Q
2906 Medical Arts

Marcus Cruz Sanchez   Jana Birchum

Critics: Nightlife
Critics: Services

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