January 20, 2013

Influential Mainers gather for presidential inauguration

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- On Monday, hundreds of thousands of spectators from across the nation will gather within sight of the Capitol to watch President Barack Obama take the oath of office.

John Baldacci
click image to enlarge

Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci was among Mainers gathering in Washington, D.C. on Sunday to witness Monday's presidential inauguration.

AP file photo by Robert F. Bukaty

But for several hours Sunday afternoon, it was all about Maine -- Maine politics, Maine seafood, even Maine blueberry-vodka martinis -- in one tiny corner of Washington. About 450 people gathered on a springlike day in Washington for a "Luncheon to Celebrate the Inauguration of President Barack Obama" that was co-hosted by the Maine-based law firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios and the New Zealand embassy.

It was actually the second such event organized at the New Zealand embassy by Preti Flaherty, a well-connected firm whose attorneys are easily found in the legislative hallways and committee rooms in Augusta. And like the first 2009 inaugural party, the guest list for Sunday's invitation-only party read like a who's who of Maine politics, past and present.

It was actually the second such event organized at the New Zealand embassy by Preti Flaherty, a well-connected firm whose attorneys are easily found in the legislative hallways and committee rooms in Augusta. And like the first 2009 inaugural party, the guest list for Sunday's invitation-only party read like a who's who of Maine politics, past and present.

Former U.S. Sen. William Hathaway -- now in his upper 80s -- talked with newly elected U.S. Sen. Angus King, who got his first taste of national politics as a staffer in Hathaway's Washington office in the 1970s. The other three current members of Maine's delegation -- Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud -- were also there.

Former Govs. John Baldacci and Joseph Brennan, both Democrats, sipped beverages and posed for pictures, while former and once-again Maine Attorney General Janet Mills circulated the room with her young grandson. Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, was there with his wife, as were a host of other Maine legislators primarily from the left side of the aisle.

Maine is a small state -- population-wise, at least -- and its political scene is relatively close-knit, so Sunday's inaugural party had a laid-back feel that seemed to fit its "luncheon" label. However, it was also an opportunity for business and nonprofit leaders who made Preti Flaherty's list.

"Having all of these people in one place is wonderful for networking," said Claude Rwaganje, whose Portland-based nonprofit, Community Financial Literacy, works with immigrants in Maine. Rwaganje said he had a chance to talk to King, Collins, Michaud and Alfond, among others.

Attendees mingled inside the embassy's airy, wood-framed great room or wandered outside under blue skies and temperatures edging into the 60s. The menu included a host of Maine-sourced seafood selections -- crabcake balls, lobster chowder, smoked salmon on a stick -- as well as cocktails made from Maine wild blueberries and Cold River Vodka from Freeport.

Like the guest list, the Maine-New Zealand connection originates at Preti Flaherty. Firm attorney Simon Leeming also serves as one of New Zealand's honorary consuls to New England.

"This is my first inauguration and it is extremely moving to see this enormous celebration about everything that is good about democracy, everything about America that the world admires and looks up to and aspires to," New Zealand Ambassador Mike Moore said.

Severin Beliveau, one of the partners, said this year's event was expanded to include New Hampshire and Vermont. New Hampshire Gov. Margaret Hassan, members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were also in attendance.

Beliveau has deep connections in Maine's Democratic circles; and his son, Emmett, headed Obama's inaugural committee in 2008-09 and now holds a senior staff position in the White House. Beliveau said the best thing about Sunday's event was that it had "no agenda," but that doesn't mean that Sunday's gathering was without politics and policy discussions.

(Continued on page 2)

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