The governor wore blue jeans.
Saturday night, for his “People’s Inaugural Ball,” Mark Dayton played the role of regular guy.
As regular, that is, as a fellow can for someone who can cause a line to form inside the Minneapolis Convention Center at 5:10 p.m for an event scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. It was as if he were a department store Santa, a role a guy named Dayton should be familiar with.
By the time Minnesota’s new governor arrived in blue jeans, blue shirt open at the collar and sleeves rolled up, standing in a pair of running shoes, the line snaked through the concourse, hundreds of people long.
Their simple quest, should they have the patience to wait for 90 minutes or more, was to shake his right hand. His mission, should he choose to accept it, was to shake all of their right hands. Thousands of them. And smile for their digital cameras and smart phones, with their children and parents, families, couples, clergy people, guys in cowboy hats and Ohio State sweatshirts, women in revealing dresses and hockey jersies, lotsa black, lotsa jeans, a smattering of bow ties. Countless Democrats.
By the time it was over, the official estimate was that 2,000 people attended Dayton’s inaugural event, but the gigantic ballroom felt as if it was packed with twice that many people.
This was a special evening; after all, it was the only party this year that enthusiastically endorsed Mark Dayton.
A pall over the day
The governor spoke out.
Despite the surprisingly giddy enthusiasm among the citizens who paid $30 each to greet the new guv and munch on some tasty finger foods, the night started soberly.
Dayton denounced the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, noting, “It’s a grim reminder of what happens when voices of extremism — their words — just carry other people’s actions far beyond what’s acceptable in a civilized society.”
Most of Minnesota’s DFL congressional delegation — Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken — held a brief media session. McCollum and Klobuchar said they had no plans to alter their outreach to citizens. That’s what they do, they said: Public servants need to communicate with the public.
Later, in the ballroom, the music stopped, and the group of lawmakers led a moment of silence for the Tucson victims.
This night was typically Minnesotan. Dayton and other elected officials mingled freely with the party-goers. But recognizable plain-clothed members of the Capitol security force closely watched Dayton’s exchanges all night from a healthy distance. Also, there was a show of Minneapolis police presence in the Convention Center hallways, with some officers wearing noticeable bullet-proof vests.
The governor smiled.
The cameras flashed. For nearly four hours. On cue. Snap, flash. Smile again. It was as if he was on the dentist’s chair and the hygienist told him to grit those teeth. Some time next Tuesday his cheeks might return to their upright and unlocked positions.
As he chatted with the state’s coiffed and sartorially resplendent voters, a gaggle of political insiders munched on wild rice and mushroom tartlets, mini-walleye cakes, Minnesota “sushi” — pickles wrapped with cream cheese and Applewood ham — and, ultimately, Sweet Martha’s State Fair chocolate chip cookies.
Not to be gossipy, but …
—There was no red carpet, no glistening hostesses greeting stars waltzing into this ballroom. But Minnesota’s very own psychedelic C-SPAN, the under-appreciated UpTake, streamed the gala live. We knew the world was topsy-turvy because the governor wore jeans, but UpTake anchor and executive producer Mike McIntee was donned in a faux tuxedo, complete with a black bow tie with gold specks. Very natty.
—Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, himself recently re-elected, demonstrated fancy footwork with his wife, Nancy, on the dance floor.
—Sen. Ellen Anderson, of St. Paul, known for her trademark turquoise scarf, wore one for the occasion.
—Recount lawyer and former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug was positively DFL-ish in a blue tie with donkeys on it. Not to be outdone, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts Executive Director Sheila Smith wore an ornamental donkey pin. But, because the arts, as we know, are completely nonpartisan, she wore a red dress for political balance.
—Longtime outdoor baseball and youth baseball advocate Julian Empson Loscalzo, who is now lobbying for a new St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown, just flew in from his vacation place in Nicaragua. (We kid you not. This allows us to call him a Sandlotanista.)
—Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon was dashing with rhinestones trimming the back pockets of her jeans.
—You want equality? New Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman had to stand in line with all the others to get his picture taken with his new boss.
—Dayton’s sons, Andrew and Eric, looked like rock stars, and dutifully stayed near their father all night, making sure he survived this world-record meet-and-greet.
—There were a couple of dogs in attendance, too, and a few of babies — with others obviously on the way. A DJ played music range from “Beat It” to “Tequila” to “Fools Rush In” — and as the night wore on, it got sort of raucous out there on the jammed dance floor. Even normally reserved Sen. John Marty was seen tapping his toe.
Keeps on tickin’
The governor couldn’t stop. Not until 10:38 p.m., a full four hours after he began meeting more people than live in a few of Minnesota’s tiniest counties, did the assembly line of grabbing hands, hugging acquaintances and chit-chatting end.
An aide said that during the election campaign, Dayton actually rubbed his right thumb area raw from repeated hand-shaking and needed a band-aid to cover the injury. Last night, he likely suffered a relapse.
Still, when his tired entourage of staffers showed relief that the receiving line had dried up, tireless Dayton decided to take more photos with friends and families of friends.
Finally, surrounded by a phalanx of those plain-clothes Capitol guards, Dayton wandered toward the stage at the other end of the ballroom to address those hundreds of people who remained to dance and drink and lobby.
He was joined by Prettner Solon. She looked down at a virtual mosh pit of liberals.
“It’s you people who put us in this office, and it’s been a long, long time, way too long, to have a Democrat,” she said, as the crowd roared with approval at the state’s first DFL governor in 20 years. “We are prepared to work with you. So, thank you very much.”
The party faithful cheered themselves.
Dayton turned to his lieutenant governor. He smiled. Then he shook her hand.