Without even trying, Stephanie Smith has accumulated tons of well-wishers over an accomplished career.
Within that wide net, a core group of longtime besties who have benefited from her steadfastness, humor, and guidance wants to let her know how much she has meant to them.
If Wednesday were their birthday, she’d have designed the cake a week ago.
Smith is one of those rare political animals who thrive on kindness and reciprocity, who creates bonds with straight talk and an ability to make complex legislation sound simple.
Her closest friends know she would never let them down, and she has approached all of her jobs with the same kind of loyalty.
That ability to connect, not miserly calculations of wins and losses, is the real secret of her success in the middle of thorny policy debates or legislative battles.
“I think it boils down to the fact that she is one of the most genuine people that you will ever meet in your entire life,” said Anna Alexopoulos Farrar, the Deputy Chief Financial Officer at the state’s Department of Financial Services, and a friend of 15 years.
Rather than take controversies to heart, Smith understands that people come to all situations carrying the baggage of their life experience, and are often reacting to events far away from the scene of any current conflict, Farrar said.
Smith had served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of External Affairs under Gov. Charlie Crist, where colleagues noted her ability to keep political conflicts from getting personal in a way that left both sides smiling, just as she had done as special events coordinator under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Smith later served as AT&T’s Director of Public Affairs, covering Florida and Georgia.
“I’ve heard people refer to Stephanie as the Homecoming Queen of Tallahassee (and now Florida) because she knows everyone and everyone loves her,” said former state Rep. Edwin Narain, AT&T’s Director of External Affairs. “She always finds the positive side of every situation, and I don’t know anyone who has a negative word to breathe about her. She truly is a light in this sometimes dark world.”
Her tools were an honest, even brutally blunt frankness that could lighten the load off others, encouraging them to relax and let down their guard.
“She’s always my go-to when I need to talk to someone and talk through problems,“ Farrar said. “Just one of those people you go to to bounce ideas off of. One of the people you go to to say, ‘Okay, I’m not crazy, right?’”
She came to Uber in 2015, as Director of Public Policy for the Sunshine State. At the time, the Congress was in the middle of wrangling over ride-sharing entities such as Uber and Lyft that would take years to resolve, including how to define a network of independent contractors, questions about insurance and how much local governments get to tell ride-sharing groups how to run their businesses.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone who knows about that regulatory process that she was key to all of that,” Farrar said. “So I will say that she is the reason, I think, that statewide regulation passed in Florida for ride-sharing.”
When friends were down, she was there.
“I text messaged her when my dad was in hospice and said I didn’t think I could make it through the day,” said Michelle Todd Schorsch, one of Smith’s closest friends who had worked with her in the Crist administration. “She did a whole day of work in Tallahassee, then got right in the car and drove 4 ½ hours to come bring me dinner. And then spend three hours with me in hospice and turn around and go right back to Tallahassee.
“That’s just the type of friend she is. She will drop anything.”
It’s time to drop everything and sing “Happy Birthday” to the woman who won wars by winning friends, and keeping them.