“Handed a lemon? Make lemonade.” This might as well have been the motto of Jersey City Mayor Tommy Smith. Thomas F. X. Smith squeezed the City Hall blaze until nothing was left but pits and rind.
On September 12, 1979 a fire destroyed the roof of City Hall. Donning a fireman’s hat, Mayor Smith used the disaster as a photo op. When the insurance check arrived, Smith spent the money, disguising a bloated municipal budget. With the charred roof covered in tarps, City Hall in Jersey City remained a symbol of urban decay for more than ten years.