The Accidental Politician

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

Not so, says Green. Although she hasn't staged a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Green says she let the stadium owners know early on she would not go for any plan that would involve diverting existing tax revenue generated by the stadium to building a new stadium. She will, however, consider earmarking any additional tax revenue for a new stadium if team owners can demonstrate that a new stadium would generate substantially more tax dollars.

Another of her former election opponents has a different take on Green. Ald. James Shrewsbury (D-16th), who ran unsuccessfully against Green in 1996, says she's done a "fairly good job.

"She's done two things I said I would do if elected comptroller. She's doing more business with St. Louis firms than her predecessors did, so there are more dollars staying here. The number of complaints that aldermen and other elected officials receive about nonpayment of bills have dropped. Under Virvus Jones, a lot of suppliers were not getting paid. That problem seems to have subsided. There's been very little in her performance that someone could criticize."

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."

Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th), a certified public accountant who was considered by some to be a possible challenger to Green next year, says she has no interest in being comptroller and believes Green is doing fine. "It seems to me like she is always looking out to protect the assets of the citizens of St. Louis," Krewson says. "She's looked out for the credit rating and has protected it, and that is to her credit." By its nature, Krewson says, the comptroller's job is unlikely to generate much attention -- unless something goes wrong: "Not many of us sit around talking about how great our accountant is unless they screw it up, and no one talks about how great our tax return is until they goof it up."

Green agrees that much of what she does, if she does it well, isn't headline fodder. "I'm results-oriented. If there are issues that involve tax dollars, whether there is a savings, I go after that...." she says. "I'm the one who is going to be looking out for (taxpayers') interest when it comes to building a stadium or a hotel."

As an example, Green notes that in 1998, the city's letter of credit for the bonds on the convention-center project came up for renewal. Rather than renew the letter of credit, Green says, she wanted to check to see whether the city could instead qualify for insurance on those bonds. Because of its improved credit rating, the city did qualify for insurance, freeing up $15 million. Green agreed to allow part of that money, $5 million, to be used for remediation of the convention-center-hotel site.

Green says she has insisted that developers stick to an original agreement to return $5 million to the city when the deal closes later this month -- an amount she has earmarked for the ConnectCare program. And she has let Historic Restoration Inc. know that she will require a specific condition before the sale of the city-owned convention-center-hotel property, slated to close on Oct. 31. If the developer later sells the hotel to a new owner, she wants the city to see a $16 million slice of the profit. HRI is balking, but Green says she'll stick to her guns: "I've said this is a deal-breaker. I'm not going to give up."

Right now, Green's only ambition is to win reelection, and unlike the mayor, she's drawn no major opponent. Harmon says it seems unlikely that she will. "What would they say? What were they going to market themselves as? I think she's got a good record, and it's going to be hard for anyone to stake some claim to the contrary," Harmon says.

Aldermanic President Francis Slay says Green has "assembled a great staff, and that's to her credit. She and her staff have done a very good job on any financing matter.

"I wouldn't call her low-key," he adds. "She lets you know her opinion and she's not afraid to disagree, but at the same time she conducts herself in a professional manner and gets her point across without being unduly confrontational."

Some say Green ought to set her sights higher than just the comptroller's office. Her political benefactor, Freeman Bosley Jr., is one of them: "I see her as a great candidate for statewide office one day."

Another is James Richardson, whose picture occupies a prominent place -- not far from Bill Clinton's -- on Green's office credenza. Richardson was Green's high-school counselor at Vashon and a man Green credits with urging her on to college.

Though he's since retired to Massachusetts, Richardson keeps an eye on the St. Louis political scene through his subscription to the St. Louis American. His voice crackles with pride as he talks about Green, the quiet, serious student he counseled decades ago but has kept in touch with all this time. He remembers issuing a stern warning when she took office -- one she has heeded so far. "I said, "I want to tell you one thing,'" Richardson recalls. ""I don't want to read anything about you with graft and corruption.' I have been so proud to this point -- Darlene has saved the city of St. Louis a lot of money because she is very efficient and fiscal-minded, and she hasn't got caught up in all that political wrangling.

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