The Accidental Politician

After five years in office, enigmatic Darlene Green has become a force to be reckoned with in St. Louis

If not for an unusual string of events, including a chance meeting at a wake, Green would not be comptroller today. Back in September 1995, Green got a call at home on a Sunday afternoon from Bosley's secretary. The mayor wanted to meet with Green the next morning. She had no idea why: "He had never done that before, so I was, like, "What did I do?' I contemplated the whole day what was wrong." That evening, she read about Virvus Jones' troubles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and figured Bosley might need her to do some work related to that. She wasn't prepared for what happened at their meeting, when he began talking about making her the city's next comptroller.

Green says she was stunned, and as she listened politely, she quickly made up her mind to turn him down: "I sat back and relaxed, because I was, like, "No way!' I was listening to him, being courteous, but when we finished the conversation, I said, "No, thank you, I can't do this.'" She remembers the two of them exchanging puzzled grins as the meeting ended. "I figured he was thinking, "I just wasted my time.' And I was thinking, "Yes, you did.'"

Green presents an employee-of-the-month award to Mary Ann Machowski.
Green presents an employee-of-the-month award to Mary Ann Machowski.

That might have been the end of it. But the next day, as Green was attending a wake, she ran into Jackie Brock, an ordained minister and evangelist and wife of Cardinals star Lou Brock, whom Green had met before on social occasions. Brock motioned to her from across the room, then told Green she had been on her mind all day. A small television set in the funeral home was running a story on Jones' problems, and Brock told Green: "You're going to have his job." She reached out for Green's hands and asked Green to pray with her.

The encounter so shook Green that she figured she had made a terrible mistake in declining Bosley's offer. "I thought there was no way she could have known about this meeting I just had," she says. "It was on my mind, but there is no way she could have known." Green, a member of Antioch Baptist Church who considers herself a spiritual person, took the conversation as a sign. "If you are a spiritual person, you don't want to miss your opportunity," she says. "You want to be in the right place. That's how I was feeling." She called Bosley that night and told him she had changed her mind. But it was more than a month before he made his decision. Green says she had "goosebumps and rumblings in my stomach and was nervous for a good 30 days." In early October, it became official: Green would be the next comptroller.

At the time, speculation about who would get the nod centered on Circuit Clerk Mavis Thompson and Leslie F. Bond Jr., a lawyer and former head of the city election board. Bosley had made it clear that his choice would be an African-American, and Green's name surfaced as a possible compromise candidate.

Bosley says Green had done a good job for him in the clerk's office, particularly in her handling of negative audits from state Auditor Margaret Kelly, who questioned what had happened to more than $1 million in funds from civil cases between 1986 and 1989. By 1993, Kelly said most of the problems had been corrected. Bosley says Green also performed well as budget director, submitting well-planned, detailed budgets.

"In these types of situations, you try to get two things out of every decision," he says, "a good administrative decision and a good political decision. When I started thinking about potential candidates, the politics had to give way to the administrative."

"She had no politics," Bosley adds. "She was a political neophyte. But I knew no one could question my decision. She's quiet and reserved, but she's confident. And I don't care what happens or what anyone says, but she knows finance and she knows money. She moves quietly and methodically and gets the job done."

Moving into such a public role was initially a stretch for the private Green, who had long felt comfortable in behind-the-scenes roles. "It is the hardest thing I've ever done," she says. She viewed becoming a public official as a second job and sought out advice from other politicians. She methodically practiced her public speaking, read books, remembered old skills from a stint in a Toastmasters club, practiced in front of friends, learned that the cure for laryngitis involves cold liquids, not hot ones.

"People who know me say there was a definite evolution from the time I first began until now," Green says. "But I knew how to do hard work. There's nothing wrong with hard work, and having a mother like I had, how could I not work hard?"

During her first campaign, supporters initially worried that the public might view her as too nice or too timid.

Darlene Davis, an accountant with TLC Next Generation who worked as deputy treasurer on both of Green's campaigns, remembers those early campaign meetings, where some supporters pushed to "almost redefine her character" in an effort to address the niceness issue -- and urged her to hire an image consultant: "Everyone was saying you have to do this and do that. Everyone was bombarding her with stuff like that and saying she needed to hire an image consultant." Davis says Green politely refused. "She said, "I'm me; this is who I am and this is who I am going to be," Davis recalls. "Forget all of the fluff -- this is who she is. When voters see her and come to the conclusion that she is soft-spoken, it is because that is who she is, but she is extremely effective."

« Previous Page
Next Page »