|1. The Houston Polo Club and The Children’s Assessment Center Foundation hosted the 3rd Annual Polo Italia & Risotto Festival. First place in the risotto competition went to Melange Catering & Special Events. More than 500 guests attended the event, which raised $96,000 for the organization that helps sexually abused children. Pictured (l to r) are: Stephanie Millika and Dasha Scherfarberg.
2. One of Houston’s leading businessmen and philanthropists received the Ethical Leadership in Action Award from the University of St. Thomas during a special luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel. Pictured (l to r) are: University of St. Thomas president the Rev. J. Michael Miller, honoree Jack Blanton and chair of the Greater Houston Partnership, Jim Kollaer.
3. There’s a new boutique in town that?s all the buzz! Tracy Huffor and Michael Todd Smith design timeless dresses and evening gowns. Neiman Marcus is picking up their collection for several of its stores. Plus, one of their designs will be featured in the upcoming April edition Neiman Marcus catalog. If they were alive today, you?d probably see Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly shopping there. Pictured is Atelier Tracy & Michael located at 2015-B West Gray.
4. After having a $14 million face-lift, The Sam Houston re-opens its doors as a modern, luxury boutique hotel. The hotel offers 100 guest rooms, nine suites and a new home for chef John Shelly’s acclaimed Riviera Grill. Pictured (l to r) are: General manager Sam Schorr, VP and CEO of Spire Realty, Bill Franks, Mayor Lee Brown and owner Barbara Smith.
5. Houston Grand Opera supporters were transported to France and the Reign of Louis XIV to kick off the Opera’s annual white-tie gala, which will be held April 5. Pictured (l to r) are: Host Robert Taylor and gala chairs Shelly Anne and Irv Marks.
6. Treviso is open in the Texas Medical Center. The new restaurant, by the same folks who created Zula, hosted its grand opening with some 1,000 guests. Treviso is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. It?s located in the new John P. McGovern Texas Medical Center Commons Building. Picture (l to r) are: Mandy and George Ciotti, restaurateur David Edwards and Jennifer Ashkinazo.
7. A new sports newspaper hits Houston in February. Sports Scene will feature personal interviews with professional and amateur athletes, including high school. Sports personality Craig Roberts is a contributing editor. A launch party is set for Jan. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Frankie Mandola’s on Kirby. Admission is $10, and proceeds benefit the Touchdown Club of Houston. For more information, give them a buzz at (713) 523-4499. Pictured (l to r) are: Publisher Nolan Ackman and Frankie Mandola.
by Roger Gray
None of the Keating Five are Available? OK, Let’s Run Sanchez –
Well, the election is over as I write this, and two things have finally come to pass in Texas. The slow-motion takeover by the Republican Party of all the levers of state power and the conversion of the Democratic Party into some sort of summer sleep-away camp for aging hippies and Panthers are both complete now. As evidence of the former, bills have been put into the legislative hopper outlawing gay marriage and allowing prayer in schools, two of the most burning issues facing our state (flash the “irony” light here). And to illustrate the latter, the Dems ran a tri-color ticket and couldn’t get any of the colors to come vote.
“OK, Here’s the Deal. I?ll Support Your Bill on Private Ownership of M-1 Tanks if You’ll Support My Proposal to Let Women and Minorities Vote Twice Just to be Fair – “
And make no mistake, if the Democrats had won, early bills would have been filed on the subjects of – well – gay marriage, affirmative action and somehow making abortion even more legal, as though these were the most pressing concerns of the people of Texas. Both of these formerly honorable institutions have been somehow shanghaied by the wingnuts of the left and right, and the things most folks are concerned about – schools, insurance, jobs and health care – will have to be wrestled onto the radar screen by people on both sides who give a damn. Of course, before that happens, we will have to wade through endless discussions about Darwin, pictures of naked statues in library books, appropriate treatment of the transgendered, flag burning, lifting that silly machine gun ban, bi-lingual cereal boxes, making the obtaining of a law degree a felony offense and Ron Wilson’s semi-annual rant about Texas A&M being an academic klavern of Strom Thurman moonies. These are the parties of Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater, and if those two could come back, they’d be doing tequila shots with Jesse Ventura and swapping war stories.
I love jazz. Let me state that right up front. And in my opinion, Houston is long overdue for a true jazz station, with suitable apologies to KTRU, which unfortunately can’t be heard beyond roughly 50 yards of campus. But then I heard that the recently transformed KIKK-FM is now so-called “smooth jazz,” which is another word for Kenny G. If only the programmers at KTRU could be hired, then maybe we’d get more Miles, ‘Trane and Gillespie. Instead, it is sleep-inducing, seemingly endless soprano sax riffs that has Houstonians in offices around the Bayou City falling face first into their keyboards. They say they will program some real jazz, but trust me, it will be on Sunday after 7 p.m. This stuff is musical Cream of Wheat for listeners who find New Age music too edgy. Expect a station-sponsored John Tesh concert any day now.
Kathy! Louie! Come Back! All is Forgiven ?
It is looking more and more like the primary legacy of the Brown era in Houston will be unpaid-for stadiums, a gaggle of international sister-cities, all of which the mayor is compelled to visit periodically, mass teen-ager roundups in store parking lots and interoffice memos written with the grammatical flair of a 12-year-old dropout. The only thing worse is the crowd gathering to take his place. If Roy Hofhienz weren’t dead, this would kill him.
?If You Build It – They Will – Hate Us” –
The Dallas Morning News, a paper that doesn’t employ Bill Coulter as a columnist and therefore apparently has some sort of competency requirement, had a big spread on the proposed $800 million makeover of Buffalo Bayou, and the article fairly seethed with gritted-teeth admiration. They have been trying to do something with the Trinity River for years to no avail. And the prospect that we might be creating some kind of e-ticket humidity ride down our main city ditch has them green with envy. The thought of that gets me all tingly. ih
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Putting the “Francis” in Franchise
Steve Francis ready to step up and lead Rockets in new season
by Keith Calkins
With the Houston Rockets firmly entrenched in the current NBA season, there is little doubt that point guard sensation Steve Francis is back in form, having rebounded from a disappointing, injury-riddled 2001-02 season and shaken loose the rust of an inactive, rehab-centered summer. Simply put, all is again right with the “Franchise.” “I think my teammates are conscious that I was injured last year. Some of the new guys don’t really know, so they’ve been banging me up a lot. But it’s good to get back out here in the team atmosphere and hear the coaches’ voices again,” Francis said as the team prepared to move into the season. “This team is trying to get better and better every practice, every day.” And Francis’ financial health could not be more robust. A bank-busting contract extension worth roughly $85 million goes into effect next season and should keep him a franchise cornerstone through the rest of the decade. “I think I’m going to have to learn the city of Houston pretty well now,” he says. “The Galleria is really the only area I know. I’ll have to get out, adventure, and see what it’s really like.” Meanwhile, Francis’ real-life adventures pattern an against-all-odds story of adolescent trials and tribulations – a broken ankle, a broken heart when a mother succumbed to cancer, a frequent eyewitness to the broken dreams in the D.C. dead-end zone of Takoma Park, Maryland. So Francis is not the least bit bothered by burdens of great expectations. “I think I can handle it,” he says of living up to the Rockets’ investment. “If you run from pressure, that’s the sign of a coward, and I don’t think I am a coward.” Steve De’Shawn Francis has never been one to run but has constantly found himself on the move, a one-time basketball nomad who first landed on the Houston outskirts in 1996, a ghost with a legend spreading through the underground like wildfire. Injuries and eligibility issues in high school cost Francis a career and a diploma. Hip-hop was not so much a musical style for Francis but, rather, three transfers in four years and only one game started before the funds ran dry and forced him out of Connecticut prep Milford Academy. A chance sighting at an AAU hoopathon in Florida landed him a shot at San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena. Armed with a GED and a 43-inch vertical game, his opportunity with the Ravens put him on the map. Homesick, he returned to the East Coast and the national junior college title game with Allegany (Mary.) Community College. Francis followed with a single-season explosion at Maryland. And when the post-draft negotiations turned nasty and grizzly with Vancouver, Rocket management pulled a heist of a trade, minus only the wampum, that returned Francis to Texas and now cements him to this community. “I know I’m going to be playing here for a while,” says Francis. “And I’ve never been able to say that before. Obviously, I am one of the focal points of the franchise. I have to remember that I am the icon of the team, and getting out in the community and being more visible for my team is definitely something I look forward to doing.” But Francis warns not to look for visible signs of change in the person or the persona. “I don’t want people to treat me any different because I make X amount of dollars,” he says. “In fact, I haven?t really thought about how much money it actually is. I just live for the right now – whatever happens today. As I get older, I’ll appreciate it more.” Francis found little to appreciate from his third NBA season. Even a first-time all-star slot, career highs for points (21.6) and rebounds (7.0) and a team high in assists (6.4) were not near enough to negate a December foot injury, an inner ear disorder later diagnosed as Meneier’s disease and late-season shoulder surgery. The culmination cost Francis 25 games and sent the Rockets spiraling into a 54-loss abyss, the worst showing in nearly 20 years. Banned from the summer courts while rehabbing, Francis escaped with a mini-tour of Europe – his first taste of London, Paris and Munich – helping flush the aftertaste of a wasted season. After the 12-day knockaround, Francis made an appointment for a sit-down with childhood idol Michael Jordan, seeking hints from the hoop highness on how to lift the Rockets from their recent malaise. “Some of the things he told me are the stages of leadership that I have already taken so far,” Francis says. “That was very encouraging, coming from the No. 1 man. “He said you don’t have to be a leader who’s real vocal, the guy who yells a lot. But lead by example, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Being a guard, never afraid to get inside and mix it up and rebound. Seeing that, my teammates should want to do the same. Michael indicated that I am right on path to being a leader of this team.” Launching the Rockets to a post-season path is Francis’ first priority. Backed by the ballyhooed addition of 7-foot, 5-inch Yao Ming, and again with a healthy cast of veterans and young guns, Francis is confident about premiering his overdue playoff debut. “My job is to keep this team united,” says Francis. “If it’s not your night to lead the team in scoring, you’ll have to do something else to help this team win. You can?t be that upset about it. Watching a lot of games last year from the sideline I saw that kind of attitude, and it really hurt our team.” Francis has inflicted plenty of hurt on NBA opposition, clock working the orange to an average of 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in each of his first three seasons. Only three others in league history can match the claim – Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Grant Hill. Francis’ off-the-court company is not quite as prestigious. “I like to relax a lot,” he says. “That means time talking with my sister (12-year-old Tiffany) and my grandmother back home and just chilling with my friends Cutino and Mouchie (teammates Mobley and Norris), just to get some peace of mind.” Away from the nightly shuffle of stuffing the stat sheet, Francis routinely keeps the downtime simple – a medium-rare night at Ruth’s Chris, a CD date with Ashanti. The only maniac tee-time devotion is with Tiger on Playstation. “I think Houston is a great place for me,” Francis says. “People are nice and approachable compared to back home in D.C., where everyone is going a hundred miles an hour. This city gives me a sense of relaxation. One day, when I have a family, I can see raising my kids in Houston.” One vanity splurge for Francis – the headrests of his white Mercedes-Benz that sport the embroidered “Franchise,” a moniker he has carried since the days and nights balling at the Takoma Boys and Girls Club. But the truest testament from his youth is the cross with his mother’s name, “Brenda,” tattooed on his right arm. Above the cross, two words: “In memory.” “Growing up, through it all, I always believed this could happen to me,” he says. “And I always knew in addition to the court skills, I needed to build character and find out who I really was. Even now in the NBA, injuring the foot and playing with the disease, all those things are in the way, and you have to get around them to be a good player and a good person.” Take Francis back in time, to the first night on the Pasadena juco outback. Provide then a crystal-ball peek that predicts a later return to Houston, fame and game, complete with endorsement deals and custom-shoe campaigns. Francis shakes his head in disbelief. “Never in a million years,” he says of such a forecast. “Never in a million years.”
Unless someone can think of a reason to prevent it, the Texas Legislature will gather in Austin this month to write the wrongs of our beloved state. Every other year when this happens, the City of Houston and the County of Harris go to the State of Texas with a List of Problems. These matters are put before the Legislature and may deal with anything from the police department to toll roads. True, it makes no sense that Houston would need the vote of a shepherd from south of Ozona to allow us to build a football stadium, but we do.
Some of the changes affecting just the Houston area are laws passed by the two Houses and signed by the governor. Others are changes in the Texas Constitution, which then have to be voted on by the people of Texas, like they care. For example, the state constitution sets the ad valorem property tax for one of Harris County’s rural fire prevention districts. It’s nice to be noticed, but you have to wonder about priorities.
When dealing with a bill involving our fair city, the officeholders deny that it is a specific item to help or hurt us, so the measure reads: “Any large city in the state but near the Gulf, beginning with the letter H and having a bayou called ‘Buffalo’ and at least one (1) symphony, ballet and/or a baseball team known as the “Astros” is hereby authorized to -” Just your generic bill.
Houston’s being micro-managed by the state legislators is not a power grab on their part. No, indeed. Representatives and senators from Palestine and Pampa have no desire to run our town. Many is the time I have heard some legislator from elsewhere in Texas moan, “Can’t you people solve your own problems down there? Why do I have to spend so much time sorting out Houston?” These are the same people who say, “How can you live in Houston with all that traffic and dirty air and – wait – my heart, there’s something wrong with my heart. Call LifeFlight! Get me to Houston! Oh, I do love that town. Greatest place -.”
In order to get these measures passed, or killed, the city sends lobbyists to Austin. They are very expensive, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each session plus expenses. You cannot buy a Texas legislator, but there are some you can rent for the afternoon. Yet, at the same time, we are also paying our local lawmakers to look out for Houston and Harris County. We have by far the largest voting bloc in the capitol in both houses plus the new lite guv, David Dewhurst, who came from here. They should be protecting our interests.
Sometimes our city and county leaders simply want Austin to take the heat off their own handiwork. (Indeed, they make up a wish list before every session.) Example: The mayor, city council and the county commissioners lobbied the Legislature to create the Houston-Harris County Sports Authority and redirect some car rental and hotel occupancy taxes to build our major league playpens. When questioned about this, our leaders said, “We’ve got to spend that money on new sports facilities. It’s state law. We have no choice.” As a result, Houston, at 18 percent, has the highest hotel occupancy tax in the nation.
Even with all these busybodies running around, they aren’t doing a very good job, because Houston is bankrolling a lot of Texas. Last year, the state spent $2.7 billion to build new highways and maintain old ones. However, the Houston region, which makes up 21 percent of the state’s total population, will get only 13 percent of the highway money. Houstonians are paving a lot of roads out to that shepherd’s pasture.
What we need to do is to get a constitutional amendment that would fire our lobbyists and let us elect legislators who would do their job. Needless to say, this would only apply to “any Texas city with a road called the ‘West Loop’ and located near a space center.” Just your generic bill. ih