March 12, 2010

Mainers gear up for grand moment

DIETER BRADBURY

— By

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Paige Barley of Fryeburg, left, takes a photo of Gregory Quinn and Annie Brown, both of North Haven, on a balcony at the Cannon House Office Building where a reception for Mainers was being hosted by Rep. Mike Michaud and Rep. Chellie Pingree on Tuesday, January 19, 2009.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Sydney Roberts Rockefeller of Seal Harbor sports an Obama button as an earring at a reception for Mainers hosted by Rep. Mike Michaud and Rep. Chellie Pingree at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Monday, January 19, 2009.

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Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The vice president's official residence stands just around the corner from the New Zealand Embassy. Maybe that's why the Mainers who partied there Monday kept the noise down.

It certainly was a big enough crowd to rattle the timbers of the embassy building, where some 500 guests laid siege to an open bar, devoured lamb and lobster, and shared their enthusiasm for the inauguration of Democrat Barack Obama

''Frankly, I've never seen anything like the excitement about Obama's inauguration,'' said former Gov. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat who has attended inauguration ceremonies dating back to the beginning of the Reagan administration. ''What a great statement the people of this nation are making to the world.''

The event seemed to be on every well-connected Mainer's must-do list the day before Obama's swearing in as the nation's first black president.

But others who flocked to the capital from the Pine Tree State found plenty of things to keep them busy, ranging from tours of historic sites to protests aimed at the outgoing president, Republican George W. Bush.

The embassy luncheon was hosted by Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau and Pachios, a Portland-based law firm. Its members, in particular partner Severin Beliveau, have long been active supporters, fundraisers and lobbyists for Democratic causes.

Beliveau's son, Emmett, 32, is the executive director of Obama's inauguration committee. He oversees some 400 staff members who planned the weeklong series of events.

Emmett Beliveau made a brief appearance at the embassy Monday. He told the crowd that events so far have gone smoothly, but that Inauguration Day will be a challenge. The forecast is for cold, windy weather and light snow today, and Beliveau said the military would be called out to clear any significant amounts of snow.

He then noted that Maine Gov. John Baldacci was present.

''The governor is counting on all of you to help out,'' he said.

Monday's guest list included the front ranks of elected officials in Maine, including all four members of the state's congressional delegation, Baldacci, Brennan and other former governors.

Also present were such well-known Mainers as Joan Benoit Samuelson, the Olympic marathon gold medalist; Les Otten, a real estate developer and part-owner of the Boston Red Sox; and Robert C.S. Monks, a developer from Cape Elizabeth who led Obama's fundraising efforts in Maine.

Since he arrived two days ago, Monks and other members of the campaign finance committee have met with Obama.

Monks said he is eager to see the former U.S. senator from Illinois sworn in today, so work can continue on a dialogue about race that opened up during the Obama campaign.

''I'm hoping that we won't be wasting energy being uncomfortable with each other anymore,'' Monks said.

Mixed into the embassy crowd were a large number of Republicans, which GOP U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe took as a healthy sign of bipartisanship.

''I think this nation has come together as one, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans,'' said Snowe, whose husband, former Republican Gov. John R. McKernan, also attended the reception.

Snowe said she has spoken with Obama and a number of top officials in his administration. She described the Obama camp as ''responsive and reaching out'' to GOP members.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, also a Republican, said she was looking forward to the inauguration as a chance for a fresh start on crafting policies that will address the nation's problems.

''The level of excitement is palpable,'' she said.

While some Mainers soaked up the anticipation of a new face in the White House, others took one last chance to criticize the outgoing one.

More than 200 protesters, led by a Maine activist, marched to the front gate of the White House and tossed shoes at the fence as a farewell gesture to Bush. No one was injured or arrested in the protest, which made its way from Dupont Circle down Connecticut Avenue to the president's residence.

Jamilla El-Shafei, who led several anti-war protests while Bush vacationed in Kennebunkport, was the lead organizer for Shoebush.org, which sought to emulate the actions of Iraqi journalist Mutandar Al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at Bush -- a sign of disrespect -- during the president's visit to Iraq late last year.

Organizers collected donated shoes around Maine for the protest Monday.

El-Shafei said the incident has become symbolic for activists who feel their efforts have gone unnoticed by the president.

''(Al-Zaidi) pierced through the reality Bush was portraying,'' she said.

Organizers were uncertain whether they would be able to throw shoes at the White House fence or possibly face arrest because of the heavy security for today's inauguration.

''We we're determined to make a statement, and the police let us make it,'' El-Shafei said.

Some Mainers focused on history more than contemporary politics during their visit.

Donna Miller Damon, one of seven Chebeague Island residents who traveled to Washington, visited the National Portrait Gallery with her group Monday and attended an informal, late-afternoon reception at the Cannon Office Building hosted by Maine's Democratic U.S. House members, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud.

Long lines formed outside the delegation's offices all day as Maine residents stopped in to pick up their inauguration tickets.

''We are cooking Maine shrimp for our hosts tonight, and then early to bed, and we'll be heading out about 7 a.m., purple tickets in hand, to cue up for the big event,'' Miller Damon said in an e-mail.

Staff Writer Justin Ellis contributed to this report.

Political Correspondent Dieter Bradbury can be contacted at 791-6329 or at:

dbradbury@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... With the Capitol in the background, pedestrians walk across an empty National Mall in Washington, D.C. early Monday morning on January 19, 2008, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Mall won't be empty for long - around 2 million people are expected to be in the nation's capital for the Inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: People attend a luncheon at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, D.C. hosted by Preti Flaherty on Monday, January 19, 2009.

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