With Gov. John Baldacci‘s remaining days in the Blaine House quickly slipping away, an intimate group of close friends and family members gathered on Tuesday to recognize his years of service to Maine. The dinner and reception took place at the Marriott Sable Oaks in South Portland.

Baldacci first entered politics when he was elected to the Bangor City Council at the age of 23. He later represented the city in the Legislature, before serving two terms as Maine’s second district congressman. In 2002, he won a four-way race for governor and was re-electedt in 2006.

He will hand over the reins to Gov.-elect Paul LePage on Jan. 5.

“We wanted to get together for the holidays,” the governor’s older brother Robert Baldacci told me. “This is not an official tribute dinner. It’s a mixture of family and very close friends. We’ll be hosting another dinner next week in Orono. There will be a lot of other dinners and tributes.”

Robert and his wife, Elizabeth Baldacci, and family friends Ken Altshuler and Lynda Doyle hosted the party.

Altshuler, a Portland attorney and co-host of the Ken & Mike morning news show on WGAN radio, told me whenever he called the governor — whether it was at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. — he was always working.

“He is the most accessible person,” Altshuler told me. “On my radio program, he never backed away from confrontation and questions.”

The two couples had expert party planning help from Patricia Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, who has known the governor for 26 years and came up with the affair’s Italian restaurant theme.

It was a nod to the Baldacci family’s long-running Bangor restaurant, Momma Baldacci’s, which closed in 2006.

The ballroom tables were draped in red checkered tablecloths and guests filled their plates from an extensive antipasto and pasta bar. Each table was supplied with a bottle of Chianti, and for dessert Eltman provided her own homemade Italian Christmas cookies.

With a room full of politicians, it wasn’t surprising that it took some time to get everyone to stop mingling and sit down for dinner. But when we finally did, I had the pleasure of enjoying my meal at a table filled with cousins, including John Nale, Lucinda Nale, Joey Joseph, Melissa Quigley, Scott Gleeson and Tamara Gleeson.

After dinner, Robert Baldacci and Altshuler offered a few remarks and then opened the floor to anyone else who had something to say.

They were followed at the microphone by Jim Campbell, a former state representative; Jerry Conley Sr., former Maine Senate president and current chairman of the Maine Turnpike Authority; and Severin Beliveau, a well-known Augusta attorney.

Beliveau shared a number of funny stories, including an account of a trip he took with the governor to the White House. For the meeting, Baldacci and his entourage were led to the high-security Situation Room, where everyone was told to surrender their cell phones. Since the meeting took place as the Senate was considering the health reform bill, the governor explained to the guard that he was expecting an important call from Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe about her support for the bill.

Beliveau recalled that the guard still took the governor’s phone, but shortly thereafter entered the room and gave it back.

“Sometimes politics trumps security,” Beliveau told us.

I’m sure others would have offered kind words and maybe a couple more embarrassing stories (such as the tale shared about a Mexican road trip), but the governor took over the microphone, saying, “Let me sort of cut this off.”

Instead of basking in the tributes, the governor said, “Tonight is to say thank you to each and every one of you.”

He made particular mention of his wife, Karen Baldacci, and her service to the state. Just like her husband, she shouted “enough, enough” as the governor heaped on the praise.

When I chatted with the first lady, she said she was looking forward to taking the month of January off. The governor told me they would vacation at their time-share in Florida.

“He’s had eight years in Congress and eight years as governor,” Robert Baldacci told me. “As a family we’re proud and we’re honored. I wish my parents and my brother Paul were alive to see John in this capacity. But I know they’re smiling down on us.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

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