Anyone who lives in the Woodland Heights has probably already seen them, the enormous purple and green dinosaurs tromping across the back wall of Travis Elementary. Thanks to artist and parent extraordinaire Dale Barton, the wild mural, a cartoon dreamscape of prehistoric proportions, is the sort of colorful image that kids and grown-ups can ogle for days. In one corner is a Guitarasaurus Tex, an orange, 15-foot-tall, ax-playing dinosaur. Across a blue sky flies a pterosaur, and in between are frogs, butterflies and all sorts of other critters, some real and some conjured by Barton's kooky imagination. Ediface Rex is available for viewing most anytime but when school is in session.

Why on earth would the struggling U.S. Postal Service want to go and "improve" some of its best attractions -- those old wood-paneled nostalgic post offices of its past -- into cookie-cutter, strip-mall sameness? Thank goodness the old Sam Houston is still around to show younger generations how things used to be. This branch was once the main post office for the city, and it maintains that quiet splendor, with the deep wood paneling and a detailed interior. As for safety, this may be the only branch that had its own metal detector long before 9/11 (that was because of the other federal offices in the building). If that doesn't make going postal a pleasant experience, the staff here reflects an earlier era as well, when personal service was paramount. This is a place that would get anyone's, uh, stamp of approval.

To his neighbors and friends, Andrew Fastow was a good-looking young business executive with an art-loving wife and young children. But inside a corporation chock-full of self-proclaimed piranhas competing to chew the most lucrative deals out of customer hides, Chief Financial Officer Andy prided himself on being the biggest and baddest. "We are Enron and we will tear your face off," he once joked to colleagues. His breathtakingly intricate accounting creations, including one named after his tony Southampton neighborhood, pumped up the company with billions of dollars of nonexistent profits, while siphoning off all-too-real millions to himself and a web of favored colleagues. Fastow made his enterprise a family affair, with wife and fellow Enron employee Lea involved in the shady bookkeeping. His two children were even used as conduits for kickbacks, according to subordinate Michael Kopper, who pleaded out with the feds. Fastow now faces nearly 100 felony counts ranging from conspiracy to money laundering, with a possible sentence of more than 1,000 years. The feds filed six counts of tax evasion on Lea. In typical Enron style, when Andy went bad, he did it on a scale larger than life.
There's something about walking into a polling place that just makes you feel like a good citizen. There you are, doing your best to select from among the candidates, acting informed even if you really aren't. So what better place to perform such a civic duty than a schoolhouse, especially such a classic, old-fashioned-looking one as Edgar Allan Poe Elementary? Tucked inside the lovely Museum District, this Philip Ewald-designed school exudes such a patriotic vibe you feel like saluting when you walk in the front door. Sure, it's named after an alcoholic writer, not some founding father. But when you toss in the delicious baked goods and coffee on sale every Election Day, the name doesn't much matter.

This 60-year-old civil rights and anti-apartheid activist-turned-elected official continues to amaze observers with her energy, grassroots common sense and a service ethic reflected in her diverse young staff. Her district is an ethnic and cultural rainbow stretching from black precincts in Sunnyside to heavily gay Montrose, and Edwards has made everybody feel at home in her office. In contrast to the political pretensions of predecessor Jew Don Boney, Edwards has put the down-home back into District D while winning over colleagues with a no-nonsense, respectful presence at the council table. Other councilmembers have made like political jumping beans, seeking new positions before their current seats are even warm. Not Edwards, who says she wants to stay in her district till retirement while training a new generation to step into her shoes. If she finds even one like her, the city will count itself lucky.

Like his mentor, former state rep Paul Colbert, Hochberg has developed a reputation in Austin as a master legislative technician, focusing on the explosive public school finance issue. He's also a tough political survivor who was forced by Republican-controlled redistricting to move out of District 132 into the more GOP-friendly 137. Fellow Houston Dems Debra Danburg and Ken Yarbrough did not survive redistricting as the GOP took control of the state House for the first time since reconstruction. Hochberg easily won over GOP opponent Dionne Roberts, who blundered by issuing campaign materials attacking him on personal issues. While Democratic colleagues including Sylvester Turner and Ron Wilson stayed in Austin, Hochberg was a ringleader in the flight of the "Killer Ds" to Ardmore, Oklahoma, which effectively stymied a congressional redistricting plan in the regular legislative session. If the Dems had more savvy suburban operators like Hochberg, they might never have lost the House to begin with.
Whenever a political stew is brewing involving Houston's left and right wings, expect to find the hand of this West University-based swami stirring the pot. Along with his wife and fund-raising partner, Elizabeth, Allen Blakemore is a force in next fall's supposedly nonpartisan Houston municipal races. He's strategizing for first-term councilman Michael Berry in an increasingly bitter guerrilla war against former councilman Orlando Sanchez for the hearts and votes of conservative Republicans. Blakemore has a built-in advantage there, having served for years as the Sancho Panza for westside political kingmaker Dr. Steven Hotze. He's also coordinating the strategy of area conservatives to win a majority on the 15-member council in November. When Democrats mounted a full-court press last year in an attempt to crack the GOP stranglehold on Harris County judgeships, Blakemore joked that the Democratic county chairperson Sue Schechter "may be liable for deceptive trade practices," adding, "She is going to lead these poor souls to slaughter, and it's going to end up being a cruel joke." After the Dem judicial slate and the vaunted statewide "Dream Team" crashed and burned, and Schechter resigned, only Blakemore was still standing to savor the joke.
What do you do if you're an ambitious young Hispanic politico who has run afoul of the traditional Democratic powers that be in the Latino community? District H City Councilman Gabe Vasquez's solution was to change playing fields. Earlier this year, he jumped to the Republican Party. Hispanic officials have prospered in the Texas GOP in recent years, mostly through appointments to plum posts like Texas secretary of state. With Republicans in control of both the White House and the statehouse, it's only a matter of time till Vasquez receives a job summons from on high.

Veteran campaign consultant and lobbyist Bill Miller, of the Austin-based Hillco Partners, has represented a lot of tough clients, one of the more demanding being Les Alexander. The Houston Rockets owner is legendary for trying to exploit every angle of a deal, and he pushed the envelope this spring by trying to maintain control of the food and beverage concessions at the new downtown arena -- in violation of a campaign promise that minority enterprises would receive 30 percent of the arena's operating revenues. Miller did what he could to control the damage, and helped design a strategy of utilizing local minority politicians, including state Senator Rodney Ellis and state Representative Sylvester Turner, to push the Rockets' case. Under pressure from a lawsuit, Alexander finally saw the light and cut a deal with local civil rights groups to end the controversy. Miller also represented Four Families in its upset victory at Houston City Council in the hotly contested "Food Fight" for Hobby Airport concessions. In the process, he whipped last year's best lobbyist, Dave Walden, to earn the 2003 crown.

After Mayor Lee Brown took office in 1998, he deposed veteran public works chief Jimmie Schindewolf and ushered in an era of anarchy in the city department that fixes streets and sewers and is most visible to voters. After several directors turned out to be duds, a desperate Brown called in Vanden Bosch, a former Army Corps of Engineers disciplinarian and veteran of the Kathy Whitmire administration. Vanden Bosch finally restored order out of the chaos, but not before the image of leaky water mains and mishandled downtown street construction had permanently tarnished the image of Brown's administration. Thanks to this bureaucrat, we'll never know how much worse it could have been.

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