Posted: June 16, 2010
UP WITH HER HEAD
By Celia Cohen
A crowd showed up in Legislative Hall in Dover last week to see Ruth Ann Minner get hung.
It was the unveiling of her official portrait in recognition of the two-plus terms she spent as Delaware's Democratic governor from 2001 to 2009.
By custom, the painting of the immediate past governor hangs outside the second-floor office of the current governor, but in Minner's case, the location has double meaning, because it is above the desk where she sat more than three decades ago as the receptionist for Gov. Sherman Tribbitt.
It was full circle for a political life that also included stays as a state representative, state senator and lieutenant governor.
"Now she'll always be here in Legislative Hall," said Frank Ingram, her son.
It was a noteworthy rise for Minner. It was equally noteworthy that nobody turned her portrait to the wall. This is an everlasting testament to the power of the state's tradition of civility.
Give Jack Markell some credit. As the current governor, he hosted the unveiling without any hint at all how Minner backed John Carney, her lieutenant governor, so pointedly in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, not to mention the terrifying budget hole she left behind.
Instead, in remarks to about 80 people, including Chief Justice Myron Steele, legislators, former members of Minner's administration and her family, Markell said graciously, "You've demonstrated throughout your life that you love Delaware, and Delaware continues to love you right back."
Posterity is certain to be kinder to Minner than the present, where the hangover from her administration persists.
As time passes, the record can dwell on Minner's status as the first woman to be the state's governor and also its longest serving, stepping up early from lieutenant governor when Tom Carper, the Democratic governor before her, left to begin his term in the Senate.
Her uplifting personal story can be told -- the 32-year-old mother from Milford widowed and scratching to raise three sons and get her GED, the lieutenant governor whose second husband died of cancer as she planned to run for governor, and the improbable political ascension from receptionist to chief executive.
She can also be remembered for her embrace of the smoking ban, the signature event of her efforts against cancer, and her commitment to the SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree) scholarships for tuition-free associate degrees.
That portrayal is not in place now, where the deal making and cronyism are not scarred over.
Not the sweetheart land lease, just discovered, set up for her friend Chris Tigani and NKS liquor distributors in Milford. Not the finagling that shifted Jane Brady, the Republican attorney general, out of office to a soft landing as a judge.
Not the plum Cabinet posts out of the blue for Richard Cordrey and Tom Sharp, a pair of Senate Democratic ex-presidents pro tem, even if they did seem to do fine once they got there.
Not the U.S. Senate appointment for Ted Kaufman, whose timely emergence on financial regulatory matters as a Democrat with a Wharton MBA has not entirely erased the feeling that Minner turned her back on Carney to get a great seat at the presidential inauguration.
Oh well. The portrait was a hit.
It was painted by David Larned, a New York City artist whose work also includes a gubernatorial portrait for Dale Wolf, a Republican lieutenant governor briefly upgraded when Mike Castle, the Republican governor, left for the congressional seat, and paintings of first ladies Jane Castle and Clarice Wolf.
Minner, wearing a light blue jacket, is vibrant and smiling as she is shown seated in front of a fireplace in Woodburn, the governor's house in Dover.
The portrait makes Minner look good. So much for the skeptics who thought nothing could.