My Lunch with George

Can Lee Brown give a controller indigestion?

The recent buzz that former Houston police chief Lee P. Brown may be leaving his job as President Clinton's drug czar and returning here with an eye toward running for mayor may have surprised some people, but not City Controller George Greanias.

It seems Greanias had already been approached by a Brown enthusiast several months back with a veiled proposition: if he would stay out of the mayoral fray in 1997, there might be a prominent role for him in a Brown administration.

The emissary was Robert Clayton, the city's fire chief under former mayor Kathy Whitmire, who now manages the Greenway Condominiums near Greenway Plaza. Clayton invited Greanias to lunch at the Houston City Club and told the startled controller he and several other Brown supporters, including Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale of Gallery Furniture, were laying the groundwork for a Brown candidacy. In that context, Clayton suggested that if Greanias just wouldn't get in the way, he'd have an open door at a City Hall run by Mayor Brown.

A source close to Greanias says the controller, who's term-limited from seeking re-election this year and is known to harbor his own mayoral ambitions, was upset by the topic of conversation and hasn't spoken to Clayton since.

Clayton would only describe his lunch date as "just a private conversation with George Greanias." He does, however, acknowledge that he thinks Brown would be a fine fixture at City Hall after Bob Lanier finishes up his run there.

"I think Lee Brown would be a great mayor," Clayton says. "After he came back to Houston [upon resigning as New York City's police commissioner] I met with him and talked to him. I said, 'Lee, I used to kid you about it but you ought to run. You've got a fine relationship in Houston. I think everybody from blacks to conservatives thinks you're just a neat person."

In a recent Houston visit Brown huddled with County Commissioner El Franco Lee and others to discuss his prospects as a future mayoral candidate, but so far he's either refused to answer inquiries about his plans or evaded them with clouds of impenetrable Lee-Speak about how much he likes Houston. Clayton says there's a good reason for that: "I'm sure the president of the United States wouldn't want to read that his drug czar is more interested in running for mayor than doing [his current job], which may or may not be the case."

Meanwhile, Mattress Mac sounds considerably less than enthusiastic about a Brown candidacy.

"He's a friend of mine," says the ubiquitous McIngvale, whose last public splash was the purchase of the championship chicken at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and his unsuccessful bidding war for the championship steer. "I met him when he was here and did some stuff with him on some of these drug-related speeches I do. I'm a Brown fan, but whether or not I jump on the bandwagon and spend a lot of money on him remains to be seen."

Of course, since McIngvale didn't drop that half-million on the prize steer, maybe there's some bidding money left for Brown.

"It saved me money," says the store owner, slightly altering the signature tag line on his furniture commercials. "That's for sure.

 
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