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Students of Brown's history note that he has always had a keen sense of timing for knowing when to move on. He left as Atlanta police chief in the glow of the conviction of a serial child killer, but before serious questions flared about that investigation. He departed as Houston chief before the downfall of his patroness, Whitmire. And Brown left as New York City police commissioner after the controversial Crown Heights riot, but before Rudy Giuliani defeated Brown's friend, Democratic mayor David Dinkins.
In terms of vice-presidential viability, Brown is fortunate that the most damaging episode in his political career, the Crown Heights riot, occurred in a state likely to be a Democratic bastion in the year 2000. Critics in the Hasidic community blamed the riot on then-commissioner Brown. They accused him of delaying response to a racial confrontation triggered by the deaths of a black child and a Jewish student. Brown's mayoral opponent Rob Mosbacher raised the riot as a campaign issue in challenging Brown's leadership abilities, and New York City Mayor Guiliani endorsed Mosbacher. Brown won anyway.
Strategist McClung says Crown Heights is no hurdle in Brown's path. "He had a bobble or two, I guess. Every police chief tends to, especially in a city like that. But having been the former police commissioner in New York is a gem on your resume. It made it just a slam-dunk to go to drug czar."
White, the man closest to Gore in Texas, figures Brown's remaining time in Houston will determine any role for the mayor on the national stage.
"I think how successful Lee will be as mayor will be the single biggest factor for his future," predicts White. "I personally think he is really hitting his stride as mayor. His attention to detail, building consensus, keeping his focus on neighborhoods and kids is going to make him a very popular mayor.
"And if he is a very popular mayor of the fourth largest city in the country," concludes White, "then he deserves to be taken seriously."
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