Darden considers run for Van Huss's 6th House District seat

Gary B. Gray • Mar 5, 2016 at 11:26 PM

Upon Steve Darden’s 2011 exit from local politics, the Johnson City Press used these five words to describe the former mayor and city commissioner: Calculating. Deliberate. Courteous. Intelligent. Shrewd.

Though the local attorney, Johnson City native and Republican has for several years expressed a casual interest in climbing up a rung on the political ladder, he now is making it clear that if and when he chooses, state Rep. Micah Van Huss and Tennessee’s 6th District House seat will be his target.

Darden first became a Johnson City commissioner in 2001. He was elected three times, serving as vice mayor and mayor from 2001-03 and 2005-07, respectively.

When U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, won a seat in the U.S. House in 2007, it was Darden who filled Roe’s spot on the City Commission. Steve’s brother, Bill Darden, is a field representative for Roe.

Rumors began circulating when Darden stepped down as a commissioner that he might challenge either Hill or state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City. Since that time he has kept relatively quiet about his intentions, saying he would have to time his attempt to balance with family and career obligations.

The last day to qualify to run in the Aug. 4 state primary is April 7. And though it remains unclear if this will be the year, intent seems to be pushing rumor aside.

“I'm honored to be seen as someone who could make a positive impact in Nashville on behalf of Washington County and bring some much-needed effectiveness and vision to that role,” Darden said. “There are a lot of factors that have to be evaluated, including family and professional matters, but yes, I am considering throwing my hat into the ring.

“I've gotten quite a bit of encouragement from friends, family, folks I go to church with, the business community and others to run in the Republican primary for the state House. They recall that we accomplished a lot while I was a commissioner and mayor, and that I have been very involved in economic development and job creation in our area, as well as several projects like the Tweetsie Trail and Founder's Park that have enhanced our quality of life.”

Among his City Commission accomplishments is the role he played in the restoration of Johnson City’s image when finances were being questioned. In 2000, he had become an avid observer of city issues. His tenure began the next year.

“An audit came out that had 56 findings (discrepancies),” he told the Press when he stepped down as commissioner. “The city’s finances were being questioned. City government was being questioned. But most importantly, the city’s reputation was being somewhat tarnished. The train was somewhat off the tracks.”

In 2001, the city’s fund balance was about $2 million. When he stepped down that number was nearly $20 million.

Darden also named the following as a few highlights while a commissioner: The unification of Johnson City and Washington County economic development entities under the Economic Development Council; a now-visible link between East Tennessee State University and downtown; the completion of road projects, such as Knob Creek Road and University Parkway; and infrastructure improvements, including Founders Park, the Tweetsie Trail and expansion of regional wastewater treatment facilities.

Darden has been an attorney with Hunter Smith & Davis since 1985, specializing in National Labor Relations Act practice, negotiation of collective bargaining agreements, arbitration advocacy, employment litigation and representation and workplace investigations.

Johnson City’s Phil Carriger, who ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for Matthew Hill’s 7th House District seat, worked alongside Darden as a city commissioner. Carriger said Darden’s character and work ethic certainly would be an asset when it comes to legislating at the state level.

“He’s very thoughtful, and he’s smart,” Carriger said. “He was always very well prepared. He did his homework. He has a deep interest in the community, and he’s been at the forefront of decisions on things such as flood control, the Tweetsie Trail and economic development.”

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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