By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
It's that time of year again, when we kick back and count our blessings and spread the wretched excess among friends and those fortunate enough not to know us.
Some of the gifts have already been given. Federal investigators jumped the gun by a couple of months in awarding several former Enron executives their just deserts in the form of indictments. The City of Houston decided to keep its controversial SimDesk contract that provides Internet access to the computerless. Now Houstonians can rewrite the Declaration of Independence to include among its entitlements "life, liberty and surfing the Net."
In November, area voters finally shattered a couple of glass ceilings by electing the first woman and Hispanic rolled into one to Commissioners Court. And the electorate maintained the local Democratic Party as a political Star of Hope mission for the officeless by defeating every donkey on the countywide ballot.
But hope springs eternal, with city elections just around the corner and term-limits turnover guaranteeing plenty of unlocked doors. In this fabled city where a person's past is only a prelude to the next gig, any schmuck -- no matter how tarnished -- can wander in off the street and become a star born anew.
After careful thought and consultations with a host of professional shoppers, here's The Insider's Christmas gift guide:
Wedge Group CEO Bill White: This millionaire exec doesn't need your cash, but there are political necessities money can't buy. For Bill's anticipated mayoral run, we're wrapping up a case of Chateau Charisma from Spec's, a John Kerry hairpiece and three certificates to a Darque Tan salon to alleviate that "Casper the Friendly Ghost" pallor. That way he'll at least be visible when he appears on TV.
Former Enron financial officer Andy Fastow: He's so fond of naming partnerships for Star Wars characters that George Lucas is giving him a leading role in another series prequel. According to the plotline, Andy convinces Darth Vader, played by Jeff Skilling in drag, to adopt controversial off-the-book accounting that eventually leads to the implosion of the Death Star and the triumph of the rebellion over the Evil Empire.
Councilwoman Dr. Shelley Sekula Rodriguez Gibbs: She gets a quickie Mexican divorce from her Reliant exec hubbie and an arranged temporary marriage to new Rockets superstar Yao Ming, allowing her to add another ethnic group to that lengthy surname.
Councilman Michael Berry: He receives an inexhaustible supply of Ritalin to suppress all that adolescent mayoral fidgeting and keep him in his council seat long enough to learn what the job's all about. Also on the way is a pair of custom-made bulletproof shoes from Norton Ditto, since Berry has proved so prone to shooting himself in the foot when dealing with his African-American supporters.
Councilwoman Annise Parker: An electorate for the 2003 city controller race as progressive as the candidate herself. (Consumer alert: This gift may not be available outside limited markets on the East and West coasts!)
Councilman Bruce Tatro: For council's notoriously negative bean counter, a free heart transplant at the Texas Medical Center to replace that calculator in his chest with something that pumps, bleeds red and has feelings.
Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge Steve Mansfield: After writing life-and-death opinions on death row inmates for six years, Steve couldn't keep a job as a Medical Center security guard longer than two weeks. Obviously, with credentials like these, Mansfield is a natural for a trusteeship on that zany Houston Community College board.
Former and future mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez: For Houston's version of the Wizard of Oz scarecrow, we're sending an honest-to-goodness real job résumé and a lifetime of anonymous donations to pay his daughter's private school bills. Also, a professional makeup consultant to get him to go light on the blue eye shadow.
Suspended Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford: He'll have an appearance on Lakewood Minister Joel Osteen's televised Sunday service. To help beat a perjury indictment, the embattled, foul-talking top cop will make like Trent Lott and profusely apologize from the pulpit for calling a subordinate a stupid motherfucker.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal: The county's head prosecutor could have used a hearing aid so he could figure out what was going on during the scandal-plagued Kid-Care charity board meetings where he served as a trustee. Also on the way are six gift-wrapped Enron indictments, to supplement that one paltry tax case filed by the county in recent weeks and to quiet critics who say the D.A. should be more involved in investigating corporate crime.
Councilman Bert Keller: Give this boy a case of nonalcoholic beer and a wife who can't stand former councilman Rob Todd.
Mayor Lee Brown: A yearlong supply of new sister cities complete with two-week trade junkets to each that will keep Hizzoner away from City Hall for the remainder of his term. He will not be missed.
Congressman-elect Chris Bell: A full-time chaperone to follow him around as he goes stag to Washington for his first term.
Commissioner-elect Sylvia Garcia: A buried-treasure map to find the locations of all the county employees and equipment hidden away over the years in Precinct 2.
County Judge Robert Eckels: A job counselor to help him decide what he wants to do when he grows up, and a bodyguard to protect him from bullies like Commissioner Steve Radack.
County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt: The next rung upward on his political career ladder, plus an acting coach to give him some depth beyond that bland Goody Two-shoes image. It makes Fred MacMurray seem cutting edge by comparison.
Walk Softly and Carry a Big Husband!
Two Houston appellate judges are hopefully waiting for a Christmas gift from Governor Rick Perry. Justices Adele Hedges and Sherry Radack of the First Court of Appeals both covet the chief justice position vacated by Mike Schneiderwhen he moved on to the Texas Supreme Court. Both women have prominent Republican husbands who are trying to help them get it.
In Adele's corner is Dan Hedges, the trim and dapper former U.S. attorney and supporter of President George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Sherry has more beef and bluff with her spouse, hulking County Commissioner Steve Radack.
Both of the Hedgeses drew some unwanted spotlight in August, when Adele interviewed for the job with Perry appointments secretary Ken Anderson. During that same visit to Austin, Dan blasted Perry's Democratic opponent Tony Sanchez for his ownership of the failed Tesoro Savings. That led Sanchez to accuse Perry of bartering the chief justice judicial appointment to Adele in exchange for her husband's campaign attack. Adele and Dan denied there was any link.
A GOP judicial source says Commissioner Radack's support for his wife may also have drawbacks. Last summer, Judge Elsa Alcala was appointed by Perry to the First Court of Appeals, and Anderson -- concerned about the lack of Hispanic judges in the county -- pushed for the appointment of another minority to Alcala's vacant state district bench. Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Commissioner Radack instead backed the sheriff's son, Tommy Brock Thomas Jr., for the position and won over Governor Perry. That didn't gain Radack any brownie points with the gubernatorial staffers, who were more concerned with currying minority support for Perry than indulging Harris County nepotism.
Further complicating the current contest for the chief justice appointment is the fact that Sherry has a clean judicial record, whereas Adele botched a 1996 appellate opinion. She upheld the conviction of a Houston police officer in the high-profile shooting death of a black woman, Ida Lee Delaney, in 1989. Hedges mistakenly used facts presented in the first trial of the officer to justify the conviction obtained in a second trial. For example, she cited extensive testimony by the defendant, Alex Gonzalez, despite the fact he never took the stand in the second trial.
"Anderson isn't doing back flips to appoint Radack's wife," says our source, "but on the other hand Hedges' wife put phony facts into an opinion in this very important case. So the governor's really facing a conundrum."
Our suggested solution: When Santa Claus comes flying through Austin on Christmas Eve, the governor's elves should deposit the hot-potato appointment on his sleigh and let the bearded one decide which judge gets the prize.