The Accidental Politician

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

Davis says Green's strongest trait is her consistency: "Over all the years I've known her, regardless of what position she is in, she is consistent. She has that sort of quiet, unassuming personality, but when it comes down to work having to be done, tough decisions having to be made, you might think she would be a pushover, but she knows her stuff. When it is time to be aggressive, she is aggressive to the point that she gets her point across and gets results accomplished, but in the end you are still left saying she is a humble, unassuming-type person. She doesn't ruffle a whole lot of feathers, but she is effective."

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for Green. Early in her term, there were a couple of highly publicized blunders. In 1996, for instance, the Post-Dispatch reported that three felons were among the hosts of a campaign fundraiser in Kansas City; Green said she was unaware of their records. And in 1997, the Post-Dispatch sued to obtain the cell-phone records of eight current or former members of Bosley's administration after Green refused to release the records. Those records, the Post-Dispatch reported, showed more than 11 hours' worth of calls from Green's two cell phones to her campaign staff. Green later reimbursed the city for the calls.

But since then, Green's tenure has, for the most part, been devoid of controversy or scandal. One alderman notes that with Bosley's mayoral defeat in 1997, the departure of her benefactor has freed Green to be an independent voice in city government.

Jennifer Silverberg
Darlene Green says she's pushing for the best financial deals for the city: "I'm the one who is going to be looking out for (taxpayers') interest when it comes to building a stadium or a (convention-center) hotel."
Jennifer Silverberg
Darlene Green says she's pushing for the best financial deals for the city: "I'm the one who is going to be looking out for (taxpayers') interest when it comes to building a stadium or a (convention-center) hotel."

She has taken on a prominent role in several key issues, including the future of the Kiel Opera House. Back in 1996, the Board of Aldermen directed Green to enforce the lease held by Kiel Partners -- a group of mostly Civic Progress companies that raised money to build the new Kiel Center -- and force the group to complete renovation of the Opera House. Green decided against suing Kiel Partners, which maintained that it had met its obligation by spending $2.5 million on the Opera House. She then appointed a task force to offer ideas on how Kiel could be restored; it recommended turning the building into a museum.

Ed Golterman, founder of Kiel for Performing Arts Inc., an organization with the goal of reopening Kiel as a performing-arts venue, complains that Green's task force included individuals affiliated with Grand Center Inc., which sees the Opera House as a potential threat to the Fox. "If you looked at the committee, it was pretty much stacked against reopening the Opera House as a theater," he says. But even Golterman, who has since left the Kiel group, won't pointedly fault Green: "I think her office consistently -- let's say the administration -- consistently has ignored the economic and cultural value of Kiel Opera House and has absolutely melted to the pressure of Civic Progress lawyers." He does say that Green's office has seemed overly picky when proposals have come forward: "They seem to require an absolute perfect deal with all the money on the table."

Green says she decided not to sue the Kiel Partners because the city counselor's office and lawyers with the St. Louis Development Corp. gave conflicting opinions on the city's legal position: "I didn't feel like I had strong legal backing, and I didn't want to waste taxpayers' money in court. I felt I could be more effective in bringing in community involvement to come up with a solution rather than going to court and spending money."

At one point, Green rejected a proposal from real-estate investor Sam Glasser, who had offered $1 million for the opera house. She says she would rather see the Opera House kept in a mothballed state until someone comes forward with enough money to ensure its restoration. Maintenance was required under the lease terms with Kiel Partners, and under the partnership's successors, Bill and Nancy Laurie, who last year purchased Kiel Center and the hockey Blues. Green believes that ultimately, Kiel Opera House could be reopened as a blues and jazz museum but also as a performance venue.

James Heidenry, treasurer of Kiel for Performing Arts, believes Green could have done more to see the opera house reopened. At the same time, he says, he is unwilling to criticize her: "I think what she's trying to do is be very conservative and careful with the assets of the city, and I applaud her for it."

Green's style in office has been a marked departure from that of her predecessor, who describes his own political style as more confrontational and contentious. Still, Virvus Jones gives Green a "pretty good grade.

"What I think the comptroller is supposed to do is to ensure that the city's accounts are being managed in accordance with the law, and I think she's done a pretty good job. The city's credit rating has consistently moved forward ... which has reduced the cost of the city to borrow money." Jones credits Green with striving to maintain her independence, citing her decision to resign from the board of ConnectCare in 1997 because she felt it conflicted with her watchdog role as the city's chief fiscal officer.

« Previous Page
Next Page »