Rodney Made Me Do It

Here's evidence that perhaps Mayor Lee Brown's staff has a little too much time on its hands.

A memo from Brown's chief of staff Jay Aiyer last month exhorted City Council members to send a get-well card to one Craig John. According to the memo, John is a seven-year-old English boy with terminal cancer who is trying to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of well-wishes. Aiyer advised councilmembers to send him a card at an address in Cashalton, Surrey, in England, and then forward the same request to ten companies or individuals in the Houston area. "Time is of the essence," wrote Aiyer breathlessly.

But perhaps it isn't. Turns out Aiyer had fallen for a decade-old chain-letter hoax that began with the real-life case of Craig Shergold in 1990. Brit Shergold not only cornered the Guinness record but also recovered from his bout with cancer.

Like Shergold, the chain-letter hoax lives on, each year or so mutating with a new name and address for a cancer-stricken youth. In an attempt to break the chain letter, Guinness deleted the get-well-card category from its list of world records, and the Shergold family issued appeals to please stop those cards and letters.

"I have nothing against chain letters on one's own time," replied Councilman Orlando Sanchez in his own snippy memo to Council, "but I don't think we should be using taxpayer dollars to circulate them through official city channels."

Aiyer apparently doesn't read Council memos, because he seemed taken aback when The Insider advised him he was promoting a hoary hoax. He quickly put the onus on state Senator Rodney Ellis for circulating the chain letter.

"Rodney had sent it to several people and I asked [Ellis chief of staff] William Paul Thomas, and he said it was a good thing to do and it was something they wanted done," recalls Aiyer. "So I just passed it on to councilmembers."

Contacted at the Democratic Coordinated Campaign office, where he is on leave from the Ellis staff, Thomas claimed he could not recall sending the chain letter to Aiyer or asking that it be circulated to City Council. Then, without prompting, he volunteered that "we always cooperate with requests to help someone get in the Guinness Book of World Records."

Perhaps that was the motivation for Senator Ellis's otherwise unexplainable decision to surreptitiously tape conversations with his colleagues on the Senate chamber floor, years ago. The move generated a firestorm of criticism from other senators but has not yet earned Ellis the Guinness listing for "Most Dumb Stunts by a Politician in a Career."

Judging by the latest chain letter, Rodney's still working hard on that project.

-- Tim Fleck

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck