When I tell people I’m interviewing Patty Smith, some ask, “the rock star?” Well, no, but this Patty Smith does rock.
Your first impression of her is that’s she’s a lovely, down-to-earth person who would be really fun to have a drink with (club soda in her case). And that’s your last impression when you leave the bar. I meet up with her at Lot 13 at 169 Avenue E. We start joking around right away. I ask her if anyone calls her “First Lady.” Her friends do when they’re being facetious, she allows, and sometimes older folks, out of respect.
OK, so she happens to be married to Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, but I’m sticking with “Patty.”
She’s not just a Bayonne native. She and most of her family have lived in or near their hometown for most of their lives. Patty was born in Bayonne Hospital, and she graduated from St. Andrews grammar school, Holy Family Academy, and New Jersey City University College of Education. Her education-and-career track has gone from teaching to psychology to mental health counselor. Currently she’s director of the school-based youth service program at Bayonne High School.
She and Mark met on a blind date in 1996 and were married in 1997. Weirdly, though they were both born and raised in Bayonne, and he was a cop, and Patty’s grandfather was chief of police, their paths had never crossed.
“I’m a real cougar,” Patty jokes. “I’m two years older than he is.”
How did she feel when he decided to run for mayor?
“I knew he could handle the job and everything that came with it,” she says. “He felt strongly that he could bring something to the office.”
The Smiths have two girls, ages 14 and 16, who attend Nicholas Oresko School and Bayonne High School, respectively. Patty says their daughters’ lives haven’t been significantly changed by being members of Bayonne’s First Family. “The first time he ran five years ago, they were too young to really know anything,” Patty says. “This time around they have their first real knowledge of what’s happening, but they’re so involved in their own lives that it has no bearing on them. Their teachers are wonderful and never make them feel differently.”
Patty is characteristically upbeat and practical. “It’s a good learning experience,” she concludes. “People will stop me in the grocery store to talk about different things but they are very respectful.”
I offer that the spouse of a public servant can spend a lot of time glad handing around town. “I do go to affairs,” she says, “but Mark often goes on his own while I’m driving the kids everywhere. During Hurricane Sandy, he was gone for eight days. During the snow storms we never saw him, but I have great neighbors who helped me dig out.”
The best thing about attending public events is meeting up with old grammar-school friends. “I’m best friends with those women,” Patty says. “There’s an understanding that we are there for one another, even though some don’t live here anymore.”
She loves the fact that there is no competition among them. “No Desperate Housewives of Bayonne?” I ask. “No!” she laughs.
Growing up in Bayonne
One of the biggest changes she’s observed since she was a kid is that nowadays kids are driven everywhere. “We took ourselves to track meets and basketball games,” she recalls. “I’d walk down to Uncle Milty’s [Playland] on First Street. I’d go down to First Street Park. There was a matron there, Mrs. Kenney, who would yell at us if we climbed up the slide backwards. Neighborhood people watched over the children and reported back to the parents.”
Back in the day, she knew kids mainly from her neighborhood. Now, she’s glad to see that her kids have friends from all over town. “There are citywide sports,” Patty says. “Bayonne youth soccer, Little League, PAL. They’re meeting kids from all over the community instead of just their own school.”
When Mark first became mayor, Patty and the girls walked with him in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. “A number of people had no idea I was married to the mayor,” Patty laughs. “As small as this town is, they didn’t know.”
She says that Mark loves being mayor but he also loved being a cop.
Have they thought about what he might do when he goes back to private life?
“Maybe become a reporter and go to crime scenes,” Patty suggests. “He’s very personable. He’d be great at it. He’s in perpetual motion. He couldn’t be an anchorman. He’d have to be on the scene.”
As for Patty?
She thinks for a minute. “Winning the lottery?”—Kate Rounds