A Letter to the Mayor

The Honorable Lee P. Brown
Mayor of Houston
Houston, Texas

Dear Mayor Brown,

THANKS AGAIN FOR SEEING ME the other day. I’m always happy to have a reason to go to Houston City Hall. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but inside it’s one of my favorite buildings in Texas. I particularly like the high-minded mottoes in that great 1930’s lettering that are on the walls to remind the city’s servants of their duty. As I waited to see you in the lobby of the mayor’s office, I kept reading the two mottoes there—“Virtue in the civic body is eternal” and “Cities and thrones stand in times eye.” After talking with you, I came to think they are closer to expressing what I understand of your political philosophy than that of any mayor of recent memory. Unfortunately, that may not be entirely a good thing, but more about that later.

I want to tell you now what I should have said to you in person. Houston owes you a debt. Before you became police chief, the conduct of the Houston Police Department was always a major issue. Since you arrived in 1982, it has been a minor issue. Yes, there have been incidents and there have been several chiefs after you left for New York in 1990, but the dynamic between the force and the city changed when you came on board. Houston is better for it. Now the question is this: Will Houston be better for your having been mayor?

So far, the reviews aren’t that good. One complaint is that you are remote, that you don’t have the easy charisma of, say, Ron Kirk, the mayor of Dallas. I wouldn’t worry about this criticism. You’re a big, imposing guy with a light-bulb smile and a gentle manner. That’s fine. There’s no point in trying to be anyone but yourself. That said, there are a few things you can do to deflect these barbs.

Another complaint is that your office is a comedy of errors. There’s something to this one. Most famously you had to suspend your affirmative-action director, Lenoria Walker, and then accept her resignation. In the space of a short talk at a convention in New Orleans, she had managed to make patronizing remarks about

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