They did not talk about past political scuffles or any lingering bad feelings in the DFL. She mapped out a vision for a statewide campaign.
“All I knew was that I really wanted him to win,” Smith said.
Rybak said that shows a trait of Smith’s that is crucial as problems flare up in the world of government and politics.
“One of the things about Tina is that she jumps into a problem and tries to fix it rather than complain about it,” said Rybak, who added that Smith was known as the velvet hammer around City Hall. “There were so many people sitting back, complaining, wringing their hands, second-guessing: `Can Mark really win this race?’ That’s not her deal.”
It’s a trait Dayton knew was essential, too.
“She’s a natural leader, very charismatic, very smart,” Dayton said. “People naturally look to her for guidance. They like working with her, and they like working for her. And she’s very good with relationships, from all walks of life.”
‘We got chewed out’
Raised in New Mexico, Smith got an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. After moving to the Twin Cities for an entry-level marketing job at General Mills, she became active in local politics, generally preferring candidates with a long liberal streak. She once served as a vice president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Smith joined Dayton as he was returning to political life after what the governor himself called a largely unsuccessful term in the U.S. Senate. In terms of temperament, Dayton, who has a reputation for being critical, demanding and occasionally blustery, is far different from her former boss Rybak, the kinetic and relentlessly optimistic Minneapolis mayor.
Among those close to her, Smith is known for cajoling Dayton in a certain direction rather than confronting him toe-to-toe. She tries to surround him with a diverse range of voices and opinions, allowing him to draw conclusions and make decisions.
“One of the things I have learned is that the person has to be who they are,” said Smith, who is married and has two grown sons. “You can’t turn them into a version of who they are. If you do that, you are not really serving them very well.”
Smith and Dayton have had to grapple with some of the most complex problems in recent state history, from the state government shutdown to building a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
At a delicate point during stadium negotiations, Dayton and Smith got wind that team owners were secretly exploring a rival plan with Republican leaders, who controlled the Legislature at the time. The proposal turned out to be vastly different from the one the administration spent months negotiating, and brought with it a host of new financial and logistic problems.
Dayton and Smith grew furious. Pulling up to a memorial service he and Smith had planned to attend, they agreed that she should return to the Capitol and deal with the Vikings.
When Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley came in the room, the usually upbeat Smith lowered her voice and looked him dead in the eye.
“We have to get this figured out,” she said. “And we have to get this figured out now. Otherwise this whole thing is going to fall apart, or we are all going to look like fools.”
Bagley recalled it as a “watershed moment” in the negotiations in which everyone returned squarely to the main plan.
“We got chewed out,” Bagley said. “But once we got that behind us, we got over it.”