Clayton Mayor Goldstein isn’t blowing smoke

Linda Goldstein, 57, is completing her first three-year term as mayor of Clayton. She must relish a good fight, because she’s successfully tackled one of the area’s most contentious issues: limiting smoking in restaurants and other public spaces, despite opposition of restaurateurs and bar owners. She also wooed Centene Corp. back to Clayton to build a stunning, environmentally friendly headquarters at a location the health insurance firm had rejected in a spat over eminent domain.

When she married Dr. Ben Goldstein, an internist, she converted to Judaism. They’re members of United Hebrew Congregation. She has a grown stepson and stepdaughter. In 1974, Goldstein graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in journalism. Eight years later, she earned an M.A. in counseling psychology at St. Louis University.

We spoke in her understated corner office at CI Select, a commercial flooring contractor in a Town and Country office park where she is general manager.

What did you not know when you became mayor?

I thought I knew a lot. I had been in office (as an alderman) for eight years. I worked very closely with former mayor (Francis L.) Kenney, and I am good friends with Ben Uchitelle, who preceded me.

It takes a lot more time than I anticipated. It’s a significant step up from being an alderman. It could easily be a full-time job.

Does it pay well?

I get $300 a meeting, and there are two meetings a month with the aldermen. That doesn’t count all the other meetings I go to.

What have you done since being elected in 2007? No-smoking was your idea, wasn’t it?

It was.


I had gotten a lot of feedback, particularly from younger people who travel or go away to college. They come back, and they love Clayton. They can’t believe people still smoke in restaurants here. They’re just astounded.

This was two years ago?

Right. Some mayors got together from University City, Overland and Olivette. We wrote a letter to the (St. Louis) County Council urging them to take it up. We got a letter back saying, “Thank you very much. We filed it.”

We got back together, and I said, “Why don’t we all just do this ourselves together?” Everyone felt they couldn’t get their community to go along with it unless St. Louis County went.

Everyone was afraid to stick their necks out?

Nobody wants to go out by themselves.

Ballwin did.

They were out there all by themselves. So I went back to my board and said we are going to have to go it alone.

Did you twist any arms?

They weren’t totally there. They were very concerned. We were going to have two public hearings, one for residents and one for businesses. We weren’t going to have a three-ring circus. We were going to keep it within Clayton. But our restaurants — we wanted to hear from them. We had a draft ordinance that pretty much prohibited smoking anywhere.

Meanwhile, we were doing a citizens survey about a variety of city services. One of the questions was, “Would you be interested in Clayton becoming smoke free regardless of what the county did?”

The feedback was that 77 percent of our citizens wanted Clayton to be smoke free. It was statistically significant. We have close to 15,000 residents, and about 500 responded.

What were businesses saying?

A fair amount of business owners felt this was good. But restaurants were concerned about two things: One, the economy (being down) and two, Highway 40 (being closed). Studies show that after a smoking ban goes in, there’s an initial dip, then more business.

Can Clayton cast itself as a healthier city where people get smoke-free dining?

The restaurants didn’t see it that way initially. Some were convinced (bad business from a smoking ban) was going to go on forever. But people come back because they want smoke-free dining. The compromises we made were that we postpone implementation until July 1, 2010 (provided the ban is passed by voters on Nov. 3).

We also agreed to allow smoking with outdoor dining. It’s one step at a time. We hope some of the restaurants will ban it outdoors voluntarily.

Did you get any hate mail about banning smoking?

Yeah. I got something that called me a Nazi. You do have a right to smoke. No one’s saying you don’t. Where their right stops is where their smoke gets on someone else. And it’s government’s role to protect public health.

Are you trying to attract more green buildings, like the one Centene is building?

That’s another thing we did because of our environmental policies.

Do you require major buildings to be certified as meeting the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard?

We encourage that, but there are no incentives. We ask them if they are going to. That’s the first step.

Could you make LEED certification a requirement, just like building codes?

We could. We’ve talked about it. We passed a requirement that any city-owned or -occupied building in Clayton has to be silver-level LEED certified.

Has your conversion affected your mayor’s job?

I converted after I met Ben. Nobody asked me to. The customs and philosophy and religion made sense to me. When you ask me about the Jewish aspect of what I do now, I probably would do the same things. But it is in keeping with being the best person you can, working hard, giving back to your community, respecting other people.

What else is on your mind?

My re-election campaign is coming up. I feel like I started this and laid the groundwork in two and a half years. We’re getting the master plan updated. I got Centene going. The smoking ban is starting.

I am very proud of the Centene building because we lost that, and we got it back. I left the door open (when it seemed Centene would be built at Ballpark Village). I never in a million years thought we’d get it back. Centene could have gone anywhere. There was a national competition, and they chose to stay in the St. Louis area.