After years of successfully defending local celebrity clients like QB Warren Moon (spousal abuse) and Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich (DWI), former Harris County prosecutor Rusty Hardin finally jumped to the major leagues with national coverage of his roles in the Anna Nicole Smith probate jamboree and the Arthur Andersen shredding trial. Hardin got so under Smith's skin during cross-examination that she immortalized him for the nation's court TV junkies by snapping, "Screw you, Rusty." The lawyer charmed reporters from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal during the Andersen trial with his country mannerisms and hokey off-color suits. He repeatedly ridiculed the government's case with the slogan "Where's Waldo?" Unfortunately for Rusty, Waldo turned out to be Judge Melinda Harmon, whose instructions forced the jury out of a weeklong deadlock and into a conviction of his client.
Minute Maid Park
God bless that American tradition of elections -- those august times when the populace flows into frayed schoolhouse hallways or churches or even humble homes or garages to exercise their voting rights. But the downtown crowd, at least the Republicans, got a better deal on this democratic notion in the party primaries. While the lesser Democrats of the same precincts were packing into the Knights of Columbus Hall, the GOP (as in Grand Ol' Park) was granted access to the airy delights of Union Station, a.k.a. Minute Maid Park. Makes sense. Ballots take on the look of lineup cards. There's a turnstile of sorts to take the straight-ticket voters. The players in this game have already tapped into their base of fan support with fat PAC backing. A dangling chad dispute? Call in the ump. And electoral turnout would soar if they could only expand the process to let fans vote on fresh candidates for some of the Astros' positions -- or even on a new owner.

East End native Carol Alvarado has been crusading for other people's municipal campaigns ever since she could walk, and last fall she finally won her own place on Houston City Council. The former aide to Mayor Lee Brown weathered an acrimonious contest against two opponents to win the District I seat without a runoff. This success came to her despite the fact that she was opposed by both her term-limited predecessor, John Castillo, and the other Hispanic member of council, Gabe Vasquez. The 35-year-old Alvarado won her race by utilizing a wealth of contacts built through more than a decade of community involvement. Somewhere down the road she might just face off with last year's Best Politician, Councilman Vasquez, for the right to become Houston's first Hispanic mayor.
Kyle Janek, a West U anesthesiologist, knocked off former GOP county chair Gary Polland by a decisive 66-34 percent margin in the spring primary for State Senate District 17, effectively putting to sleep Polland's incipient political career. Janek also may have ended Polland's reign as political payout king of the Harris County courts, where Republican judges for years have showered the defense attorney with lucrative appointments to represent indigent defendants. Janek, a rock-ribbed conservative, had to weather a Polland campaign attack that accused him of being a "left-winger." When Republican voters stopped laughing, they went to the polls and voted Janek.
This 40-year-old native Houstonian went public with his battle with severe depression in 1994, and since then he's become a leader in public health care legislation. He's been repeatedly lauded by Texas Monthly in its yearly evaluation of lawmakers and honored by the Texas Medical Association. After disclosing his illness, Coleman began taking antidepressants to control his condition. Last year the legislator was arrested on charges of assaulting the owner of a Montessori school attended by his children. He eventually pled to a misdemeanor and apologized to the man. Coleman denies that the incident was related to his mental illness. Associates point to family history: Coleman's father, the late Dr. John Coleman, a political kingmaker in Houston's black community, was famous for his temper. Coleman also may be taking up the kingmaking role of his dad. He was heavily involved in the campaign of Ada Edwards for the District D City Council seat last fall. Although most of the heavy hitters in the black community went with her opponent, Gerald Womack, Coleman's candidate won.

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs feels compelled to add her personal two cents to anything any citizen happens to say during the City Council public session. A dermatologist, Sekula-Gibbs has also appointed herself the resident expert on all matters medical. Like any gadfly, she means well but can drive colleagues up the wall with her time-consuming gab.

Retiring Harris County elections supervisor Tony Sirvello, a veteran at the county for two decades and a favorite with media, oversaw the computerization of county election returns as well as the installation of a new computerized voting system to replace the much-maligned "hanging chad" punch ballots. He wanted to stay through the fall general election, but County Clerk Beverly Kaufman decided otherwise, forcing his resignation. Sirvello won the respect of Houston political reporters and campaign consultants through his accessibility and nonpartisan handling of his job. The jury's still out on Kaufman's new election crew. It took three people to replace him. Can they fill his capacious shoes? Wait and see; time will cast its vote.
Brenda Flynn Flores, an Arkansas-born mother of ten, is the electronic bullhorn for a group of municipal workers who call themselves "The Silent Voice." Since HOUSNITCH's founding three years ago, hundreds of would-be whistle-blowers have found a forum to vent their grievances -- and internal documents -- for all to see. Flores, nicknamed Juera, or Blondie, is far from perfect, and at times the Web site has seemed more like an out-of-control attack vehicle for her political allies, like District A Councilman Bruce Tatro. Nevertheless, Flores continues to be a thorn in the side of complacent city bureaucrats and incompetent public works managers. Long may she snitch!

The beauty of Houston, in a perverted way, is the wealth of opportunities for individuals to rise up amid corruption and misconduct and take their moral stand, consequences be damned. Just in the last year, there was the implosion of Enron, the callous cunning of Arthur Andersen and the market manipulations from other energy companies here. So has the Bayou City's moral backbone gone to the dogs? In this Best of Houston winner, we're proud to say it has. Sam Levingston, a 72-year-old veterinarian at the city's animal pound, wouldn't remain quiet about reports of atrocities: workers viciously mistreating dogs and cats, holding them under water with choke sticks. At least once, they even washed puppies down the drains of their cages. His investigations and reports to supervisors got him fired. He then had to endure the backlash of city allegations that he'd been canned for incompetence. While a pound spokeswoman continues to deny the awful actions there, a jury heard the facts -- and hit the city with a $1.2 million verdict. For Houston's sake, let's hope there are more Sam Levingstons in local government.
Bob "Alwalee" Lee proclaims himself "Da Mayor of Fifth Ward." This retired social worker is already a legend in his northeast Houston community for his person-to-person efforts to help the disabled and elderly. And he's backed by a prime political connection. His brother is none other than Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee. Those on Da Mayor's mailing list are also treated to a stream of politically oriented collages that poke fun at everyone from preacher pimps to former Enron chairman Ken Lay. He has labeled State Senator Rodney Ellis an "honorary white boy" and skewered former city councilman Michael Yarbrough as "Yardboy." A recent mailout pictures Houston City Councilman Michael Berry and Congressman Tom DeLay, while blasting "opportunistic white politicians who chase our votes by kissing black babies, old folks and pretending to like fried chitlins."

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