Sparks did not fly the night Katuria Smith met Alfonse
The former senator "was a little too famous for me," she recalls. "It's not
my thing. I'm the anti-groupie."
No, for sparks to fly, D'Amato had to work it the way he worked a
fund-raiser. A first date. A little dinner. A little piano playing (Neapolitan
love songs, no less). A lot of charm.
"I totally fell for him," Smith says of their first date at the Manhattan
restaurant Campagnola, where they lingered until 3 a.m.
And so it is that this Sunday, five years after that night that melted into
morning, Alfonse D'Amato, power broker, will wed Katuria Smith, high-level
lawyer, in a quiet little extravaganza for 450 of their closest friends.
Despite their age difference (she's 38, he's 66) and disparate backgrounds,
the reserved, Seattle-born attorney of French, Irish and Cherokee Indian
descent and the ebullient, bespectacled, balding pol, the son of Italian-born
parents have - on elegant paper in engraved script - requested the pleasure of
their friends' and families' company this Sunday afternoon.
The ceremony at Sacred Heart Church in Island Park will be followed by a
black-tie reception at Oheka Castle in Huntington. As the couple's wedding song
proclaims, "What a Wonderful World."
Not surprisingly, it was politics that brought them together. That first
meeting was at '21' Club, where they were attending a fund-raiser for Rudolph
Giuliani's abortive Senate run. Smith was a securities lawyer with Proskauer
Rose in Manhattan. D'Amato had been out of office since January 1999, after he
lost the Senate seat he'd held for 18 years to Democrat Charles Schumer.
Following that fateful first date, three days after the fundraiser, D'Amato
called Smith "every half-hour when we were apart," she says, though both admit
the romance hasn't been without some natural ups and downs.
"We've had our bumps, believe me," D'Amato says. Smith says, "We're both
very fiery, and we had to work through a lot of things - the gender gap, an age
difference greater than some couples', our communication styles, thought
processes and opinions."
But their courtship has been highlighted by extensive travel - to Italy,
St. Barts with Gov. George Pataki, to Australia for the Olympics, to Florida (a
number of times on Donald Trump's private jet with The Donald and fiancee
Popping the question
At a birthday party for Smith in Island Park in December, D'Amato was
finally ready to seal the deal - with a 4.2-carat diamond ring presented atop
the cake. Since then, wedding plans have been speeding forward, thanks in large
part to Smith's friend and former colleague Coleen Hyland, an attorney and
mother of twins from Manhasset. Knowing Smith was consumed with work (she is
now a clerk for Loretta Preska, a federal district court judge), Hyland booked
appointments at Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera and Saks Fifth Avenue to shop for a
The expedition reaped more than expected, with the bride- to-be actually
purchasing two dresses. "I hate to feel like I'm acting extravagant," says
Smith, whose jobs growing up included a stint as a janitor, "but I got
For the ceremony, she'll wear a sleek Vera Wang - "one of the cheapest she
had," Smith says. For the reception - which Smith describes as "Grace Kelly
meets Great Gatsby" - she'll change to a va-va-voom Carolina Herrera halter
with a plunging back in silk charmeuse.
While the wedding has morphed into a staunchly traditional affair, Smith
was not initially inclined to go that way, even though this is her first
marriage. (It's the second for D'Amato, who's been divorced from his first
wife, Penny, since 1995.)
"I really would rather not have a black-tie wedding," she says. "I'd rather
have a beach party."
After family and friends rejected her luau idea, the couple toyed with the
thought of running off to Italy for a quiet ceremony. And then, as weddings
sometimes do, Smith says, "it took on a life of its own."
A rejuvenated groom
For his part, D'Amato, who now runs Park Strategies LLC, a Manhattan
consulting firm, is playing the role of the groom with a youthful relish.
(Though you can still find his name in the headlines, most recently when he
suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney be replaced by Sen. John McCain or
Gen. Colin Powell on the Republican ticket.)
At Milano, a men's store in Huntington where the suits are custom and the
atmosphere is exclusive men's club, complete with cappuccino bar and lounge
area, D'Amato shows up in April for his first fitting.
Not a big fan of tuxedos, he says it's all "a conspiracy between Katuria,
her girlfriend and my mother to get me to wear a tux." Until now, he says, the
only tuxedo he owns cost "about $200 and came from the Men's Warehouse." At
Milano, his custom tux will run about $2,500, and owner Sal Paterno, hopes to
steer his style.
"He doesn't look like your average groom," Paterno says, "but in the world
of marriage these days, what's average, anyway? We're going to try to make him
look younger and get him into a three-button suit. It'll make him taller and
thinner and better- looking. He's got too much of that 1950s politician look,
and I know he's very conservative, but I am going to try." (He succeeds.)
D'Amato wins his own battle. He, too, will change for the reception - into
an off-white dinner jacket and black slacks.
Love appears to have been a tonic for D'Amato, who sports a golf tan and
appears fit from his exercise regimen - a daily workout of two to six miles on
the treadmill and three sets of light weights. "Kat plays soccer, you
understand," he says of his athletic fiancee, who plays weekly in the Long
Island Ladies Soccer Association.
But on a shopping expedition at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with Hyland
and other friends on a Saturday in early May, Smith isn't looking for cleats.
She's hunting for the all- important wedding shoes. "I measured Alfonse in the
mirror this morning, and he's about this much taller than me," she says,
indicating about two inches between her thumb and forefinger. The mission? Two
pairs of sexy, comfortable shoes that don't make the 5-foot-7 1/2-inch bride
look taller than her intended.
Department manager Jodie Breece listens to the tale of two dresses and
makes haste choosing about a half-dozen pairs. She hits it on the head right
away. A Badgley Mischka sandal banded with hand-sewn pearls ($455) for the
ceremony and a starkly elegant silk pleated slide by Vera Wang ($300) for the
reception. In rolled-up khakis, a ribbed white shirt and the fancy shoes - one
on each French-pedicured foot - Smith strides the selling floor. "These are
good. I can run in these shoes," she says.
Smith's wedding preparations also have included spending time with
D'Amato's mom and dad, who in September will move with the newlyweds into the
now-infamous beach house D'Amato is building in Lido Beach.
A scene from the '50s
"Mama and I are very similar people - very type-A, a little opinionated -
and we became close immediately," says Smith, who has spent many a Sunday
learning Italian cooking at the house in Island Park where Antoinette D'Amato,
89, and husband Armand, 90, have lived for almost 60 years. On one such Sunday
in mid-May, the scene is so traditional it conjures a '50s television series.
Mama D'Amato, in a green gingham apron, moves gracefully about her immaculate
white kitchen, her bright voice regaling with colorful family tales (one
includes a cursing parrot), interrupting herself to instruct Smith on the art
Smith, face flushed from the heat of the kitchen and task at hand, is an
apt but tentative student. She adds small pinches of salt to the meat mixture.
Mama encourages, "More, more, more," and then her hand flies up in a stop
signal. "Now, get your hands wet with cold water," Mama says. The women roll
together, Mama's hands so deft you can't see them move, Smith's a little more
Like the wind, the senator blows in, grumpy after a bad round of golf. He
pouts like a boy, kisses Mama on the cheek, smooches Smith on the lips and
gives her a pat on the derriere. "Stop that," she admonishes teasingly.
How does Mama feel about her new daughter-in-law-to- be? "I liked Katuria
right away," she says, "and, actually, right now, I think I love her more than
"Don't tell him that," Smith responds.
"Oh, he knows," Mama says.
Chopping the guest list
If D'Amato has a single worry about his upcoming nuptials, it is the guest
list, which had to be whittled, or rather chopped, down from a whopping 1,896,
to the current collection of 450 nearest and dearest - with only 200 invited to
the church service. (The couple will show a video of the ceremony at the
reception.) "It is a heartache," he says, seeming genuinely anguished.
As it stands, the list represents an eclectic mix of the high-profile and
high-powered. Among the invited: Pataki; former mayor Ed Koch; Sen. Arlen
Specter (R-Pa.); Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.); gossip columnist Cindy Adams;
Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News; Ivan Seidenberg, chairman of
Verizon; Christy Ferer; Frank Pellegrino, owner of Rao's; and Pete Kalikow, MTA
chairman. Trump and Howard Stern sent regrets.
The menu at the ritzy Oheka Castle is a bipartisan mixture of marvelous
contradictions: Sevruga caviar, pigs in blankets, prime filet mignon and Mama
D'Amato's original chicken cacciatore.
Smith's anguish isn't about the guest list; it's about being center stage.
Unlike D'Amato, who delights in it, she says, "I don't really like to be the
center of attention. To be honest, the only thing I am nervous about is walking
down the aisle."
Saul Cohen, her former boss at Proskauer, who introduced the couple, is
escorting her since her father is deceased. Her mom, Joann Hicks, will be here
from her home in Marysville, Wash., outside Seattle, and her two sisters will
be bridesmaids. Still, about the moment of making that traditional walk, she
says, "I'd rather have 10 root canals."
While Smith and D'Amato are in very different places in their lives, they
seem to agree on the major marital issues.
About children: There won't be any. "If Alfonse [whose four grown children
from his first marriage will be at the wedding] were younger, we would have
children," Smith says. "But he doesn't want to bring children into the world
and then not be with them. And I agree.... Given that we may have less time
together than most couples, we want to enjoy it together."
About a prenuptial agreement: Both say "no comment" when asked whether they
have one. Then, they do comment. D'Amato says, "Let me say, I think she's
pretty happy with where we are and where we're going. We have an understanding
as it relates to the totality of our relationship and our needs." Says Smith,
who will take her husband's name, "We've discussed everything, including
financial arrangements, and Alfonse takes very seriously his responsibility to
his family." Translation: They have one.
But the heart of the matter is really a matter of the heart. It's hard to
miss their chemistry - the sparkle, the fire and the friendship. Hyland, who
will be the matron of honor, says, "It's the perfect match. He's come to a
point in his life where he realizes that love and family are it, and even
though it sounds corny, nobody will ever love him like her."
'Never been happier'
Says David Cornstein, chairman of NYC Off-Track Betting Corp., "Look, I've
never seen him with a very elderly lady on his arm, and this is more of the
same." Cornstein, a friend and golf buddy for more than 20 years, describes
D'Amato's romances during his gallivanting days as short-lived - including a
highly publicized one with gossip monger Claudia Cohen. But now, Cornstein
says: "he's never been happier. They are so compatible and so in love."
Adds Larry Elovich, a groomsman and a Long Beach lawyer, "When Al was in
the Senate, there was a special attraction, that aphrodisiac of power. When
Katuria met him, he no longer had that. She loves him for himself, and they
have a lot in common. They are both extraordinarily bright and both full of
energy, and this is a marriage that is going to make them both very happy."
As for the couple, here's what they're hoping for on the big day:
Him: "That the ceremony will be a wholly personal thing. And that it will
be a great party with good friends and family."
Her: "The church will be very emotional for me; I know I'll cry. And then,
I want it to be a real celebration - jovial, convivial with everybody happy,
jumping around and enjoying themselves."
It�s all in the details
Here's a look inside the Smith-D'Amato wedding blast:
Bridal party: Matron of honor Coleen Hyland; bridesmaids Jacqueline
Siochi, Denise Berndahl (Smith's sisters) and her friend Vickie Seskin
Best man: Armand D'Amato, the groom's brother Groomsmen: Longtime friends
Doc McGann, Larry Elovich, Charlie Gargano
Bachelor party: Jaunt to Atlantic City with family and friends for golf
Wedding shower: Luncheon at The Atlantic Beach Club in Atlantic Beach
Rehearsal dinner: La Parma III, Oceanside
Centerpieces: Two-foot-tall glass vases filled with green limes and green
calla lilies, flanked by hot-pink and hot-orange pillar candles by Scarsella's
in Laurel Hollow. Says wedding planner Michael Russo: "We do get 'Bridezillas'
here. Katuria was definitely not one."
The cake: Oheka master cake decorator Daniel Andreotti calls the
Victorian-inspired confection, costing about $5,000, "quite a doozy." The
four-tier chocolate cake will be decorated with handmade sugar flowers, edible
lace, pearls and dots. More than 100 hours of work will go into the confection,
which will be filled with white chocolate mousse and covered with Austrian
The band: The Stingers, 11 pieces with four singers, keyboards, drums,
guitar, bass, sax, trumpet and trombone. They'll open wearing robes for a
gospel set, then toss them when they swing into their Motown sound. The first
dance will be to the Louis Armstrong classic, "What a Wonderful World," and
guests can expect a healthy dose of Sinatra standards.
The honeymoon: Italy - Lake Como, Florence and Milan.
- Anne Bratskeir