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.

'Twas the endlessly quotable Townes Van Zandt who sang the line "No prettier sight than looking back on a town you left behind," and even if that judgment did arrive in a song called, paradoxically, "I'll Be Here in the Morning," the sentiment stands. Your life was waterlogged in the great backwash of '01, the temperature's 104 in your hat, and the West Nile virus is queued up to fill the void left by yellow fever epidemics of yore. Even the staunchest Houston-boosters and stick-it-outers deserve a break every now and then. Get in the car, roll down the windows, crank up the a/c, and head to Austin, for God's sake. The road ahead may be bleak for miles, but that receding skyline in the rearview is an awfully pretty sight.

When tempers flared last summer over an ad hoc day-labor site near Kingwood, one man stepped in to help broker talks between the immigrant workers, aggrieved business owners upset about the massing of men on their property, and Montgomery County sheriff's officials. That man was Benito Juárez, then-coordinator for the Houston Immigration and Refugee Coalition. His efforts contributed toward changing the tone from recrimination to one of constructive problem solving. For years, Juárez has been a fixture at rallies for the rights of immigrants and refugees. The 39-year-old Guatemala native might be found picketing the offices of the INS or fronting marches in Austin and Dallas. He played a key role in getting foreign-born people, including undocumented ones, to participate in the 2000 Census, helping to produce the largest response ever among Houston's immigrant community. This year, Juárez was named outreach specialist for Lee Brown's newly created Mayor's Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs. While the position may lower his profile at protests and rallies, Juárez welcomes the potential for greater access to local, state and national officials. "My commitment is for advancing the struggle for the respect of the rights of immigrants and refugees," the soft-spoken Juárez says. "I'm doing it in a different way, but the commitment is the same."
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.
Stressed? Tired? Tired of feeling stressed and tired? Walk past all the people on blankets soaking up the sun in the boring part of the park and stroll into the Japanese gardens. There's a suggested donation, but we've yet to see someone sitting in the booth. When you walk in, there are little pagodas and rock gardens and beautiful flowers. Beyond lies a little hill with waterfalls flowing by a serenity pond and reflection pool. The place looks like the cover shot for a book of haikus. There are footbridges galore, and little baby ducks following their mothers. It's a peaceful, shady, tree-laden place to stare at the water and try to think Zen thoughts.

All right, all right. We know what you're thinking. But remember, this is the issue where we're supposed to be nice. And anyway, who fits this award better? Linda Lay knew she wasn't winning any fans after her Tammy Faye Bakker moment on the Today show ("We've lost everything!"). So rather than continue the pity-me route, Lay took the much more American approach. She picked herself up by her Fendi bootstraps and started Jus' Stuff, a resale shop in Montrose. The store is full of all sorts of items once officially owned by one of Houston's most favorite families -- and there really are items the public can afford. From lamps to tables to little knickknacks, here's a chance to get your hands on a curio from one of this city's biggest stories. And come on, you've got to hand it to the gal for trying.

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.
Recently one morning while on our way to work, we were driving along Feagan Street in the West End when we saw what we first thought was a man with a metal detector in the ditch in front of what used to be Zocolo Theater, the alternative outdoor film and art center. As we got closer we saw that the man was wearing plastic goggles, was smoking a big pipe, and had a huge white handlebar mustache. And instead of a metal detector, the man was holding a weed-eater. It was then than we finally recognized former Harris County district attorney Johnny Holmes, who, following his retirement last year, now apparently spends part of his time applying the death penalty to unwanted vegetation.
The stuff of public art, hike-and-bike paths, youth programs and parks are pleasant municipal amenities, to be certain. Even residents who don't personally partake of such things can still feel good about having them as part of life in Houston. But all those come after what ought to be the priorities of any public service agency: peace of mind. Sewer lines should work. And trash should get picked up. And -- especially on the freeways of Houston -- we need truck enforcement. The motoring masses shouldn't be regularly terrorized by huge tractor-trailer rigs barreling down on them or sandblasting sedans with refuse from unsecured loads. For 30 incredible years, Houston police largely looked the other way at truck safety violations. As late as mid-1999, police officials gave the excuse that they weren't going to get involved in such "regulatory" functions. Meanwhile, truckers ran amok. After a rash of big-rig wrecks, police finally relented. In October '99, Sergeant C.J. Klausner began the Truck Enforcement Unit with ten full-time officers (another 30 work one day a week for the unit). Statistics (as of July) are staggering. The unit has inspected 5,000 18-wheelers and issued 6,000 citations along with 23,000 formal warnings. After being stopped and inspected, 53 percent of trucks (twice the national average) have been ordered off the road until repairs are made or properly certified drivers are found. Some 500 drivers have been arrested, either for past warrants or other infractions -- or for having no licenses at all. "We've been accepted very well," Klausner says. "Mainstream truckers want to do a good job." And the unit virtually pays for itself through the revenues generated. While Houstonians ought to be horrified at having to wait so long for units that were long established in smaller communities, our hats are off to HPD. When it comes to curbing bad trucks, better late than never.
This is how bank lobbies are supposed to be: gilded, titanic, chock-full of patterned marble and with a ceiling as soaring as a newly minted MBA's ambition. The ceiling of this grand banking hall is a full six stories above the worker ants below. It's clear that Jesse Jones -- at whose behest this majestic edifice and more than 100 other buildings were built -- was not one to think small, and it shows not just in the lobby but also in the exterior of this Gothic skyscraper. Don't forget to check out the historical art deco murals in the lobby's entrance halls -- the retro-futuristic one depicting what must by now be the past is pretty hilarious.

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