Posted: Aug. 22, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner unveiled the official gubernatorial portrait last week for Thomas R. Carper, and no, she did not pin it to the tail of the donkey poster she keeps in her office to zing state officials who are out of favor.

Carper and Minner had their ups and downs when he was the governor and she was the lieutenant governor from 1993 to 2001 in what was more a marriage of political convenience than true love, even though both are Democrats.

Still, the portrait presentation on Thursday, Aug. 14, in Dover was a gracious occasion, the sort of thing that Delawareans expect from their officeholders to preserve the self-image that politics here is better than in other places, like California, perish the thought.

"It is indeed my pleasure, having served with him, to be here," Minner said.

The hour-long ceremony climaxed at 11:43 a.m., when a Delaware-blue drapery with blue and gold drawstrings was removed to reveal the portrait, hanging outside the governor's office on the second floor of Legislative Hall.

It shows Carper, now a U.S. senator, leaning against the governor's desk with the U.S. and Delaware flags flanking him. His arms are folded, and he is wearing a gray suit and red tie. What is not there is a window that in real life is behind the desk -- replaced by artistic license in this rendering with a shade-colored wall.

Yes, it does look like him. The portrait was painted during the last year by Stephen Tanis, an Arden artist, who accomplished the likeness by building his artwork around the feature it is impossible to miss on Carper. "He's got a very strong jawline," Tanis said.

The portrait cost $17,000 and was brought in under budget at Carper's insistence, according to Susan S. Edwards, the aide who supervised the project. It joins a long line of paintings of former governors, which the state has been collecting since 1898. By tradition the portrait of the immediate past executive hangs outside the governor's office, and the earlier ones are shifted down the corridor.

The practice has created a little-known trove of famous artists in Legislative Hall. It includes Jamie Wyeth's portrait of Democratic Gov. Charles L. Terry Jr. (1965-1969) and George A. "Frolic" Weymouth's painting of Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont (1977-1985), as well as Charles C. Parks' bust of Gov. Russell W. Peterson (1969-1973) in a nonconforming sculpture. Typical Peterson. This is someone who was elected as a Republican but became a Democrat in 1996.

Minner may be the governor now, but the portrait presentation occurred on Carper time. She is punctual. He is terminally tardy. The event started about 20 minutes late. Even so, Minner's "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" game with the tails showing the faces of government officials remained stowed away.

The event drew about 75 people, and it was a heavily Carper crowd. The man who was elected a treasurer, congressman, governor and senator always has had a reputation for going his own way in state politics. It is something that has made him popular with the voters, who have elected him to statewide office a record-setting 11 times, but not so much with the politicians outside his circle. On this occasion it showed.

Only four judges showed up -- Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland, Chancellor William B. Chandler III, Vice Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr., who was Carper's legal counsel, and Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes.

A half-dozen legislators were there -- Democratic Reps. Bruce E. Ennis, Melanie L. George, Helene M. Keeley and Peter C. Schwartzkopf; Republican Rep. Donna D. Stone; and naturally Democratic Sen. Nancy W. Cook. It seems as though nothing happens in Legislative Hall without Cook, a political power who arrived as an attache in 1959 and was elected to the Senate in 1974.

Carper called Cook "the queen." A lot of people do.

The ceremony also served as one of those infrequent gatherings of the state's most select group, the living governors' club. In addition to Minner and Carper, there were former Govs. Sherman W. Tribbitt, a Democrat who served from 1973 to 1977, and Michael N. Castle, now a Republican congressman who was in Dover from 1985 to 1993. Also attending were Republicans David P. Buckson and Dale E. Wolf, lieutenant governors who served briefly as governors, Buckson in 1961 and Wolf in 1993.

Governors who did not attend were du Pont, who was in Maine, and Peterson, who was in Colorado. Former Gov. Elbert N. Carvel, a Democrat who served split terms in 1949-1953 and 1961-1965, sent word from his home in Laurel that he would not be there, saying, "I'm 93 years old, and I'm not coming."

Among the governors, Castle has been known to say that he feels like the lieutenant governor again whenever he is around du Pont. On this day, Minner had a worse flashback than that. Once upon a time, she was Tribbitt's receptionist.

"Sherman Tribbitt just walked into my office, and I felt like, 'Do you want me for something, Governor?'" she said.

The speakers were Carper insiders. They were Edward J. Freel, who was his secretary of state, Jeffrey W. Bullock, who was his chief of staff, and James R. Soles, a political scientist who was his entry to Delaware politics. When Soles was a congressional candidate in 1974, Carper was his campaign treasurer.

They were the sort of speakers who could get away with ribbing Carper, and they did. "To make art out of Tom Carper, that artist is destined for greatness," Bullock quipped.

The only statewide official in the crowd was Jack A. Markell, the Democratic state treasurer. Perhaps he came to wonder when his portrait would go up. There was no sighting of John C. Carney Jr., the Democratic lieutenant governor.

It was said that Carney was at a meeting that could not be rescheduled, and not that he has despaired of ever seeing his portrait go up.