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Palin adds glamour to gala

Hundreds of Juneau residents turn out to greet governor

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

They came to the inaugural ball in hiking boots, XtraTufs and high heels, all to meet the guests at table No. 7 - Gov. Sarah Palin and her family.

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On Saturday evening, Juneau's Centennial Hall filled with well-wishers for the governor's inaugural ball. About 800 people showed up to rub elbows with the Palins and celebrate the election of a new governor. It promised to be the largest social gathering in Juneau for the next, well - four years.

The governor appeared in a fuchsia dress accompanied by her husband and two of their four children. Her shoes were bought two hours before she showed up at the ball. Who made her dress? She said she forgot.

"You'd have to look at the tag to find out," she said, adding that she wouldn't have minded if it was made by Carhartt.

Palin said she deeply appreciated the gala.

"I like the idea of a celebration of change," she said. "For me it's an opportunity to get together with the people I will be serving."

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell seemed excited but humbled by the ball and all the people gathered to meet him and the governor.

"For me it's a celebration of Alaska's excellent people," he said. "We are thrilled we have an opportunity to serve all Alaska."

The theme for the ball was "New Energy for Alaska."

Paulette Simpson, coordinator for the Juneau event, said the party was meant to be egalitarian. It drew state senators, representatives, businessmen, Juneau residents and their friends and families.

Tickets cost $35 at the door, and were $50 for a reserved seat. Reserved, 10-seat tables cost $1,000. Palin met with some of the event's major contributors for about an hour before appearing in the main meeting room of Centennial Hall.

Before the ball, the governor had a meet-and-greet session at the Nugget Mall. As a teen jazz band played, she shook hands, hugged supporters and posed for photographs. Todd Palin, sometimes called the "first dude," was present with members of the Palin clan. Todd Palin said everyone in Juneau has been great to them. The staff at the governor's mansion has been particularly accommodating.

"We got used to it right away," he said. "They made it very comfortable for us."

For about an hour, people lined up to welcome the governor to Juneau, or just say hi.

"I think they just want to introduce themselves and let her know their happy she's in town," said Nathan Rivas. He arrived with his wife, Gwen, and their six-month-old daughter, Ruby.

Gwen Rivas said the governor's visit to the mall says something positive about the state and its residents.

"It says we view each other as equals," she said.

Steve Graves, a Juneau businessman, said he showed up Saturday because the outing was "something different to do."

"It's one of the bigger outings since I've been here," Graves said. "It seems to be a nice dress-up occasion."

The food centered on Alaska's culinary offerings, specifically seafood. David Moorehead, executive chef at the Baranof Hotel, said his team of chefs and service personnel started cooking three days before the ball started.

"It's been controlled chaos," he said.

Offerings included 20 pounds of smoked sable, 100 pounds of poached salmon, 50 pounds of bacon-wrapped weathervane sea scallops, 50 pounds of sautéed reindeer sausage, 30 pounds of smoked-salmon mousse, endless amounts of desserts, bread, crackers and cut vegetable trays. And don't even ask him about how much coffee they had on stock.

"I just do the food," he said shaking his head and smiling.

Moorehead was proudest of fish cakes he made from smoked black cod.

"I took a recipe from my family tonight, and we'll see how they like it," he said.

Tonight's inaugural event was one of six planned for the state. The next ball is scheduled for Jan. 27 in Palmer. The last event is planned for March 31 in Nome. The balls are paid for by ticket sales and private contributions. In all, the events will cost about $300,000.

• Will Morris can be reached at william.morris@juneauempire.com



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