Are we there yet? Have we reached 2009? Maybe we can crawl under the bed until 2008 is over, because we can’t take much more of it. This year we endured a massive hurricane, the implosion of our sports teams and a cascading stock market. Finger’s Furniture became Ashley’s, and the Downtown YMCA built in 1941, became the Downtown YMCA built in 2008. After 70 years of operation, the Avalon Drug Co. was bought out by CVS, and the storm actually hit. So let’s take a look at 2008, where spectacles in the space left us yearning for a new year. We shall start with North Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who predicted an FBI investigation into corruption allegations would force him from office. It was something about the design of his home, provided at no cost by a prominent retired architect. In addition, his campaign records were in disarray…again. $475,000 in cash suddenly ballooned to $1.8 million, and more than $1 million was quietly stashed in secret CDs. The commissioner wins our “Be It Eversole Humble, There’s No Place Like a Designer Home” Award.
Congressman John Culberson submitted a $500,000 earmark to erect a statue of noted Houstonian John Adams in Washington, D.C. That was but a drop in the pork trough. Altogether, Houston members of Congress tried to get 289 earmarks passed.
Washington magazine made its annual survey of 1,700 Capitol Hill staffers and honored Houston’s own Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee as “Meanest Representative,” “Biggest Drone,” “Show Horse” and second place as “Fashion Victim.” She won more awards than any member of the House.
Weather or Not (The Sky Is Appalling): As usual, our TV weather wizards went ballistic over any approaching cloud west of Africa. Dolly came and went, then Edouard and Gustav missed us. Darn! Finally, there really was something to rant about: “Ratings!”
Ike caused $8.5 billion in damage to houses, apartments and mobile homes. The disastrous storm brought us misery, days of no power and weeks of dead limbs piled on our front lawns.
Quote of the Year (Ike’s Scream Division): “You need to be getting these (expletive) trucks out of here!” — Mayor Bill White upon finding trucks loaded with ice, food and bottled water at the Reliant Center while, two hours after opening, nine of 11 PODs had no food or water and only five had ice.
Unfortunately, we had to deal with FEMA again. Among its many foul-ups this time, of 6,600 families displaced by Ike and eligible for long-term rental housing, more than a month later only 500 had been sent to proper housing authorities.
Another reason to worry about the weather: According to a new analysis, more tornadoes strike Texas than any other state. Out of the 254 Texas counties, guess which one hosts the most? Harris, with 211 since 1950.
Can we ever forget 2008 was an election year? Our coveted Klock Stopper Quote: “What we wanted to do was project mayhem.” — GOP Congressional primary candidate Brian Klock, who used a billboard showing the Houston skyline in flames to push his plan for avoiding another 9/11. Klock lost.
Hold Your Nose and Vote For Vo: Texas State Rep. Hurbert Vo, a millionaire, turned out to be a slum lord, owning four local apartment complexes with exposed electrical wires, rotting wood, mold, and overflowing dumpsters. Upon being outed, he wrote to the HPD protesting the inspections, using his official State of Texas I Am on the Law Enforcement Committee and Don’t Forget It stationery. Vo won his bid for re-election.
Losers: Shelley Sekula “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” Gibbs and Kelly “She Stabbed Him 193 Times!” Siegler. Sheriff Tommy Thomas was tossed from office and former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford didn’t get to be DA Bradford. On the legal front, prospective juror Cornelia Mayo wins our Out of Pot Luck Plaque. She was arrested for smoking a joint outside the Harris County Courthouse during a break. Mayo was one of 20 people in a jury pool to try — guess what? — a woman accused of possessing marijuana.
Fridge Is a Cold Case: 28-year-old Kathryn “Kristi” Fridge was arrested and handcuffed by a fire captain after he heard her use the f-word at a Wal-Mart store in La Marque. Fridge didn’t help her case when, according to the official report, she told bystanders, “Can you believe this? He’s —-ing arresting me for saying —-.”
This year’s Leave Well Enough Alone Award: Clara Harris, the Friendswood dentist who ran over her cheating husband enough times to kill him and sued her defense attorney, George Parnham, claiming he overcharged her. The jurors found the lawyer not guilty, ruled Harris still owed him $70,250, and ordered her to pay Parnham $389,443 for his legal bills in her civil suit.
A Hole in Juan: Lawrence Shipley III, scion to the Shipley Do-Nut empire, received six months probation and a $6,000 fine after pleading guilty to hiring illegal immigrants. The company admitted to doing this for years and used nine residences to house the illegal workers. It was fined, too. They Could Have Been Running Backwards: Joe Horn was no-billed after fatally shooting two fleeing burglars in the back.
Coffee, Tea or a Knuckle Sandwich? Flight attendant Sharon Brown sued Victoria Osteen, wife of mega-pastor Joel Osteen, over an alleged altercation aboard a Continental flight. Brown claimed Victoria damaged her religious faith and caused a hemorrhoidal flare-up. The jury decided on the side of Osteen, who gave us The Quote of Last Retort: “Thank you, Jesus.” She did not say “…people who go to Lakewood (Church) are screwballs and nuts.” That came from prosecutor and DA candidate Kelly Siegler during jury selection.
And now for the sports segment. When former Texan fullback Jameel Cook was pulled over in August, Houston Police found Cook had:
no front license plate,
no registration sticker,
no valid driver’s license,
and no proof of liability insurance.
His Florida driver’s license had been suspended in May.
Strangest Sports Story: “But this is akin to saying that Houston’s cow-skin work in tops of innings on Crawford St. and bottoms of road innings is outstanding?…But MMP of 2008 is MMP of 2007, and so far, our stats say that in ordinary and OOZ plays, Houston of 2008 is outdoing Houston of 2007.” — Zachary Levine in the Houston Chronicle.
The Astros again played the role of spoiler — spoiling their fan’s season. The Boys of Slumber finished out of the money, out of the playoffs and 11 games out of first place in their division. Houston fans, finally showing taste, dropped attendance a whopping 240,968 from the previous season. Designated Hitter: Shawn Chacon. Designated Drunk: Brandon Backe. But there is hope for the future: the Astros’ four top minor league farm teams — Round Rock, Corpus Christi, Lexington, Ky. and Salem, Va. — all finished with the worst records in their respective leagues — bottom, the basement, last place.
Catch a Falling Star: Local heroes Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte got sideways with Congress, and their fans, over drug use. Clemens is suing his former trainer and current accuser, Brian McNamee, for saying tacky things about the Rocket. In addition, country singer Mindy McCready supposedly had a lengthy affair with Clemens. For whatever reason, his Memorial Mall restaurant is on hold.
And now our Rush Limbaugh Medicine Cabinet Trophy: The day after the Astros signed shortstop Miguel Tejada for $13 million, he was listed in the Mitchell Report for using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
In football, overwhelmed with fan appreciation, the Houston Texans finally reached mediocrity with an 8-8 record, causing the owner to jack up ticket prices.
Rice fired head basketball coach Willis Wilson after the Owls lost the last 20 games, finishing the season 3-27. His replacement? Ben Braun who was fired two weeks earlier by Cal-Berkley after three losing seasons and repeatedly finishing eighth or ninth in the Pac 10.
After coming back to within two games of first place in their division, the Rockets lost Yao Ming for the rest of the season and stunk up the joint. This is a recording.
Two-time champs Houston Dynamo didn’t repeat, but nobody knows. Perhaps if the team had not cratered to pressure and kept its original name, Houston 1836, it would have a greater following.
Enough of sports, here’s a true winner in The Final End to Camelot Category: Houston businessman Jack Worthington, now living in Canada, claims to be President John F. Kennedy’s illegitimate son. He must like hanging around First Families. Worthington dated Sharon Bush, President 41’s ex-daughter-in-law.
Gag Oder: Anheuser-Busch announced plans to pipe methane gas from a local landfill to help power its Houston plant.
A Rising Yacht Raises All Prices: James Mulva, CEO of Houston-based ConocoPhillips, received a compensation package of $50,549,026 last year. The top 100 earners in Houston, almost all oil and gas executives, received an average of $8,141,785 last year, up 31.1 percent from the year before. How’d you do?
Ah, but there’s good news. In the Somebody Up There Likes Us Department: On June 21, 2008, Slate and Newsweek ran: “To find a hot spot where soaring oil and commodity prices and the booming economies of the developing world are keeping cash registers ringing and construction crews fully employed, you don’t have to trek to Dubai or Moscow. You need travel only as far as Houston.”
BusinessWeek ranked 25 metro areas for the best combination of good pay, available jobs and an affordable standard of living. We’re Number One! The magazine described our sleepy fishing village on the bayou as “riding high these days, thanks to record profits in the oil and gas business.”
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in July called Houston the “Comeback Kid,” and also rated our town Number One: “It’s the city of big plans and no rules, beat-the-heat tunnels and loop-the-loop highways, world-class museums and wiry cowboys, humidity that demands an ice-cold martini and the biggest damn liquor store on the planet. How could you not love Houston?”
Poles Apart: “Houston is known the world over. The technology is much higher, and the experience is greater.” — Lech Walesa, explaining why he came to Houston’s Methodist Hospital for heart treatment, thus chapping off doctors back in Warsaw.
In the Department of Equal Times, The New York Times gave us this year’s Crystal Bawl Award: “Houston in summer can be a miserable place. ‘It’s 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity — in the shade,’ said Crystal Hadnott, a career counselor for a scholarship fund.” Actually, Crystal, it rarely gets to 100 degrees or 100 percent humidity in Houston. It just feels that way.
Greatly Missed: Louie Welch, Ron Stone, Ray Miller, Orange Show honcho Tom Jones, Clyde Wilson and Dr. Ralph Feigin, Physician-in-Chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and Chairman of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. We also bid farewell to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, who, before his death, was honored with Congress’ highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, by President George Bush.
Moonlighting Becomes You: 30 HPD officers were suspended without pay, or were or given written reprimands, for working private security jobs while still on city time.
Take a Truncheon to Luncheon: The City of Houston settled lawsuits against it for the 2002 botched police raid and mass arrests in a Kmart parking lot for $840,117 plus another $60,000 for outside lawyers.
The Casons Go Rolling Along: In the past 12 months, the Houston Chronicle mentioned Becca Cason Thrash 32 times, down from 37 the previous year, but this year she garnered two lengthy stories.
Out to Launch: NASA employees used government-issued credit cards (i.e. taxpayers money) to purchase iPods, video games, clothes from NASA’s own gift shop and a Christmas tree.
Winners: Discovery Park and an end to construction on the Katy Freeway. Catholics got a new church, the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and Daniel DiNardo was made a cardinal. Angry that the Houston Livestock Show &Rodeo didn’t have enough Tejano musical stars or officials, some Hispanic activists urged a boycott of Go Tejano Day. That day set an attendance record.
Made in the Slade: Former TSU President Priscilla Slade, accused of spending $500,000 of the school’s money on personal luxuries including golf lessons and bar bills, plea bargained her way from spending a single day in jail. Instead, she was fined $127,672.18, put on probation, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service.
Mission Implausible: Was Roland Carnaby a CIA spook or just a fraud? Carnaby was fatally shot by Houston police after a high-speed car chase, as he reached into his car for a “shiny” metal object, which turned out to be a cell phone. The CIA denied Carnaby ever worked for the agency, which, of course, meant he did. Or didn’t.
Worthy contenders all, but they can’t hold a candle to the Worst Little Courthouse in Texas. So, while the competition is usually tough this year, our late DA wins the A Rosenthal By Any Other Shame Award. Congratulations.