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Councilman Smith has no regrets upon exit from Watertown politics

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After hundreds of votes over the years, Watertown City Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith cannot think of one he would change. Even with the most difficult, he believes he made the right choices.

Tonight, Mr. Smith, 44, will be asked to make at least six more when he attends his final council meeting.

He has no regrets.

“I did what I thought was best for Watertown,” he said last week as he looked back at a political career that spans two decades including 12 years on the council.

Mr. Smith lost re-election in November, finishing third in a four-way race. Incumbent Teresa R. Macaluso was the top vote-getter, while newcomer Stephen A. Jennings won the second seat.

Weeks after the election, the sometimes brash and often outspoken council member hasn’t spent much time looking back at why he did not winanother term. Like he did on election night, Mr. Smith concluded simply not enough people went out to the polls to vote because they were not seeking change.

And voters just do not seem to be that interested in city government and politics like they were when he was first elected to City Council in 2000, he said.

Some residents criticized him for voting for the so-called roommate law that the council passed last winter, which involved regulating rooming and boarding houses in Residential A districts. It became a public relations nightmare when dozens of residents showed up to council meetings bringing accusations that city officials were trying to regulate lifestyles and living arrangements. He stood his ground, insisting he was just trying to protect Residential A districts.

Sitting in his kitchen in his remodeled Keyes Avenue home last week, Mr. Smith was asked about how the zoning amendment played a role in the election. He acknowledged, “for some voters, it was an issue. No doubt about it.”

But it was one of the decisions over the years that he made with what he thought was best for Watertown in mind.

“My harshest critics, they don’t know me,” he said.

For instance, his mother, Mary Clemo Smith, told him about an incident when she was campaigning door-to-door for him and knocked on the door of one voter who began complaining vehemently about her son.

The man told her immediately he would never vote for Mr. Smith, even without meeting him. The man pressed on with his criticisms, unaware he was speaking to the councilman’s mother — until she made sure to let him know.

Ms. Macaluso said she never understood why the councilman had such a bad reputation. During these last four years, Ms. Macaluso said, she enjoyed serving with him. At times, they disagreed on some issues, but Mr. Smith “never held a grudge and was always gracious.”

When he ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor two years ago, Ms. Macaluso supported Mayor Jeffrey Graham. It could have created a wedge between her and Mr. Smith. Yet he had no hard feelings, she said.

“He’s a nice guy,” she said. “And, unfortunately, some people don’t see that.”

At age 23, Mr. Smith entered politics after getting elected to the old Jefferson County Board of Supervisors in 1993 and served two stints on the City Council, from 2000 to 2003 and from 2006 to the present.

Through it all, he was a strong proponent of the city looking at ways it can use alternative and renewable energy. He’s been such a strong supporter that he installed solar panels on his house and an “urban” wind turbine on the roof of Quik Med Urgent Care, the Washington Street walk-in clinic he owns with his wife, Milly C.

During his time on the council, he has also urged making major improvements at the Watertown Municipal Arena and other facilities at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Finally, it appears the City Council will go through with some kind of rehabilitation of the 40-year-old ice rink, but he will not be there to make sure it stays on track, he said.

In his mid-40s, Mr. Smith said he doesn’t know if he’ll ever return to politics, although he wants to keep working to make Watertown a better place.

Last week, Mr. Graham, who sometimes sparred with him on issues, said he would not be surprised if Mr. Smith did get back into politics. The two men began their political careers together back in the early 1990s, he recalled.

“At 44, it’s too early to write someone’s obituary, politically or otherwise,” the mayor said.

Approaching 500 meetings during his career, Mr. Smith has not thought about how he will spend his Monday nights now that he won’t be on the council.

A father of three school-aged children and another in college, Mr. Smith said he’ll keep busy attending their hockey games, gymnastics sessions and other activities.

“I’ll enjoy the break,” he said.

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