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Romney returns to the State House for a cameo role

Former governor Mitt Romney (right) returned to the State House last night for the unveiling of his official portrait. Former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey (left), Governor Deval Patrick, and a crowd of about 250 also enjoyed the festivities. Former governor Mitt Romney (right) returned to the State House last night for the unveiling of his official portrait. Former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey (left), Governor Deval Patrick, and a crowd of about 250 also enjoyed the festivities. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / July 1, 2009
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Former governor Mitt Romney pulled a blue sheet off an easel last night, revealing a gubernatorial portrait that depicts him wearing a business suit, a slight smile, and what is a first for a State House portrait: a cameo appearance by his wife, Ann.

Romney’s official portrait, unveiled with more pomp than the State House has seen in years, shows the one-term governor leaning on a desk, with two items on it: a photo of his wife and a leather binder that has a medical seal representing the state’s landmark healthcare legislation, approved during Romney’s tenure.

It is the first time a governor’s wife has been included in a Massachusetts gubernatorial portrait.

“Appreciate all of you coming today, and joining with us,’’ Romney said with his trademark folksy tone, to a crowd of about 250 supporters, former staff members, and state lawmakers. “I’m so delighted to spend some time with you. Look forward to shaking everybody’s hands, and look forward someday to doing this again and again and again.’’

But Romney, who has been considering another run for the presidency, also had his national ambitions on full display. He granted an exclusive interview with Fox News and greeted attendees as if he had never stopped campaigning, at one point carrying his 8-month-old grandchild around the hallways.

“Thanks for being here,’’ he told one person, punctuating it with a loud chuckle.

“You’re very, very kind,’’ he said to another.

“Got to have stuff for your website,’’ he said after taking a photo with Representative Paul K. Frost, a Republican from Auburn.

Much has changed since Romney last roamed the marble hallways of the State House, when he took the ceremonial “lone walk’’ out of the building on Jan. 3, 2007 and immediately launched his bid for the presidency. Republicans are a greater minority on Beacon Hill than ever. Romney ran and lost his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

The ceremony also included a level of planned production not seen at the State House in years. Tabletops had crisp white cloths. Velvet ropes were installed around the audience, and bright lights shined on a stage set up in front of the Grand Staircase. Guests were able to sip white wine, ginger ale, or Heineken and eat from an assortment of cheeses, crackers, and vegetables.

“It’s good to be in the building again,’’ Romney said.

Any sense of political disagreement was pushed aside for the night, as several of the state’s top Democrats - including House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, and Secretary of State William F. Galvin - were there to pay tribute to Romney.

“In my mind,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick, “You should be remembered as one of the principal architects of the greatest experiment in healthcare reform that this country has yet to see, and we in the Commonwealth are grateful to you for that.’’

Romney thanked Patrick for his “graciousness, gentleness, and kindness.’’

“He made me a better leader, and I’m grateful for that,’’ former Senate president Robert Travaglini said of the former governor. “I also realize he has some promise in Washington, so I’m not a fool.’’

“He made me a much better governor,’’ Romney said back.

The gubernatorial portrait is as much a part of the State House as its golden dome and backroom deals. The hallways are adorned with paintings of nearly every governor of Massachusetts, save a handful from Colonial days.

Romney’s painting was done by Richard Whitney, a New Hampshire artist who has also been commissioned to depict US Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, former secretary of labor Robert Reich, and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu. Romney said that Patrick let him come into the corner office on a Sunday so he could pose for pictures that were the basis for the painting.

Romney has paid Whitney $32,000 since September, using his statewide campaign account, which has $9,165 left in it.

By tradition, Romney’s portrait will hang in the outer office lobby of the governor’s office, joining six other portraits. Its placement will force removal of the portrait of former governor John Volpe, with whom Romney’s father, George, once served in President Nixon’s Cabinet. Volpe’s portrait will hang in a hallway.

Romney said he loved the painting for its “real-life feel to it.’’

“You’ll note one thing this painting has in common with real life,’’ Romney said, “is that in the painting my hair doesn’t move either.’’

The decision to include Ann in the portrait was the former governor’s, she said. “I think that was a really nice touch,’’ Ann Romney said after the ceremony. “I didn’t even want that picture. But you know, what do you do?’’