After eight years as the chief executive of NewAlliance Bancshares, Peyton Patterson is trying out a different role: political appointee. In March, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell appointed her to a new state commission tasked with narrowing the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

It's a hat that Patterson says she would like to wear more often, and she may soon have plenty of time. The $8.7 billion-asset NewAlliance is selling itself to First Niagara Financial Group in Buffalo and Patterson will relinquish her title when the deal closes next year.

Patterson became better acquainted with the governor after American Banker named her one of its community bankers of the year in 2008 and the state declared Dec. 4 of that year "Peyton Patterson Day." Since then Patterson and other business leaders have met with the governor several times behind closed doors to discuss financial matters.

Patterson views her work on the commission as "a second job," but says that shouldn't be a sign that she plans to run for office. Despite growing speculation about her political ambitions, Patterson says she is more likely to pursue public service than politics.

For now, though, her priority is guiding NewAlliance through the merger, which is growing unpopular with some public officials who fear loan decisions will now be made in Buffalo. (First Niagara says it will maintain a regional headquarters in New Haven.)

While she's stayed mum about her post-acquisition plans, Patterson says they're certain to include banking. "It's the only thing I've really ever done," she says. "It is who I am."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.