Franni's 'big day' caught by many cameras this time

1:50 AM, Jul 9, 2009   |    comments
  • Franni Franken awaits Al's return from induction
  • Eagle statue in old senate chambers
  • Al and Franni Franken embrace at Capitol
  • Franni Franken holds Wellstone Bible
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Washington, DC -  I feel like I attended a wedding here Tuesday.

They led us media types into the historic old Senate chambers at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday for what was dubbed a "mock" swearing in ceremony for Minnesota's newly minted U.S. Senator. 

This room had once been used by the Senate, and subsequently by the Supreme Court. Now it's a good place to hold ceremonies, including dramatic recreations of oaths.

They put us on the spectators' side of the thick velvet ropes.  This was our holding pen, so to speak, to guard against the kinds of media chaos that gives huge news events the reputation for being chaotic.

Al Franken was in the current Senate chamber being sworn in officially by Vice President Joe Biden, and we'd be seeing them both soon. We were politely warned we were here as guests of the Senate, to record this moment but not to blurt out questions or comments.

A golden statue of a bald eagle, our national bird and iconic symbol of freedom, loomed overhead. I could fully imagine it springing to life like the gargoyles in Ghost Busters and pouncing if we were to encroach upon the Vice President's space or in any other way wreck the magic of the moment.

And, while it's always nice to see a V.I.P. like the V.P. up close, the mental image I couldn't escape was that Franni Franken was there to be married.

She entered the room with a red rose pinned to her dress and stood watching the entrance, her face full of excitement, anticipation and sheer joy.  She had worked so hard for this day. The new Senator has often said he told friends "Franni and I are running for Senate."

I said to one of my colleagues, "Franni looks like she's standing at the altar, waiting for her groom to walk down the aisle."

"Croman, leave it to you to say something wacky at a moment like this," a veteran public radio reporter shot back.

But she did. 

I suddenly recalled the night last October we interviewed Franni for one of our Senate candidate profile pieces.  She married Al in 1976, and had actually known him since 1969.

Could we see the wedding pictures? We always ask. TV is about pictures.  I can't remember the answer verbatim, but I came away with the impression that a friend's camera malfunctioned and the film didn't turn out well if at all.

Just then I was snapped back to reality by the sound of camera shutters clicking furiously.  Senator Al Franken had entered the room and walked straight to Franni for a long embrace.

I thought to myself, as the cameras continued to click away, there will be no shortage of pictures for this "wedding" day. 

Then the entourage poured in.  Their son Joe and daugher Thomasin. Ring boy and flower girl?  Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Senator Amy Klobuchar followed. Best man and matron of honor? Or the witnesses?

After all they were the ones who formally escorted Franken down to the real Senate floor for his real oath.  If we were talking about a marriage certificate here rather than election certificate they would definitely be the ones signing.

The Washington media continued to operate with a worn out thumbnail sketch of Franken the "comedian" Tuesday. Mondale and Klobuchar found themselves answering questions about how serious Franken can be.  Yes, witnesses.

Then Joe Biden walked in and greeted the Frankens.  Franni's sister Carla was there with her husband.  Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson dropped by to share the moment.

"Who are they?" one of the local reporters asked me.

I wanted to say, "Friends of the bride and the groom."

Instead I went with, "That one's the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and that one's the chairman of the Ag commitee. They're both from Minnesota."

Then Biden recited the oath.  He's the minister at this wedding thought the one prone to flights of wackiness.

After the ceremonial re-enactment the Senate's photographers -- the wedding photographers if you will -- were setting up different combinations and arrays of guests to pose for the occasion.

Franni backed away momentarily while the two Vice Presidents posed with the two senators.  This was my chance to whisper a question to Franni.

"Franni, can we see the Bible?"

She was happy to oblige. And, just like any good golf play-by-play person, she matched my whisper with a whisper of her own.

"David Wellstone lent this to us," she said in hushed tones, "We couldn't be happier or prouder!"

She flipped open the inside cover to reveal the Bible had been presented to Paul and Sheila Wellstone in 1962.  Then she showed us the next page. Sheila had recorded her 1963 wedding date with Paul.  Their friends say they were still on they honeymoon when they left this world 39 years later.

I missed the reception.

We had to go back to our Gannett sister station in Washington to put our video into the computer system. I learned later that Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Robert Smigel, the guy who does those cartoons on S.N.L. and the voice of Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog had both stopped by.  A MinnPost reporter said he saw Bob Dylan.

We did return to Franken's office later to get a lead on the Franken honeymoon suite.  Franni, with Joe and Thomasin in tow, headed for an elevator at the Hart Building to go check out a converted carriage house near the Capitol.

"I rented this place on Craig's list but I've never seen it!" she explained, "I'm on my way to see where I'm going to live! I already paid them first and last month's rent!"

(Copyright 2009 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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