One major question about First Niagara's deal to buy NewAlliance remains unanswered: what role Peyton Patterson, the seller's chief executive and one of the most prominent bankers in New England, will play in the post-merger company.

In an interview Thursday, Patterson would not say whether she will remain with the institution once the deal closes. "It's probably premature for me to comment," she said.

John Koelmel, the CEO of First Niagara, said in the same interview that he would be the combined companies' president and CEO. He and Patterson said their priority will be to integrate management teams. But there is no plan yet for doing so.

"Certainly, our expectation is that you'll see the essence of the team that has built this company … continue to drive [its operations] going forward across the region," Koelmel said. "Trust me, I'm highly confident in our ability to perpetuate the right leadership here, whether it be in Peyton or across her broader team."

Patterson is credited with guiding the $8.7 billion-asset NewAlliance through a turbulent public offering that transformed it from a slow-growing thrift into the fourth-largest banking company in New England.

"She is [a] dynamo of first proportions," said John Carusone, the president of Bank Analysis Center Inc. in Hartford, Conn. "First Niagara would be foolish if they didn't take advantage of her very significant executive talents."

Patterson joined New Haven Savings, a $2.3 billion-asset mutual, in early 2002. After about 18 months, she presented the board with a bold plan to acquire two banking companies, financing the deal through the IPO. The company has since bought two more institutions. In 2008, American Banker honored Patterson as one of three Community Bankers of the Year.

Some have speculated that Patterson — who was raised in Washington by her mother, a politically active, high-ranking State Department official — has political aspirations. But she dismissed the idea. "I would assign a low probability into going into politics," she said, chuckling.

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