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A politician's saving grace can be a sharp press secretary who presents The Boss in the best possible light while putting skeptical reporters at ease, convincing them that you're just helping them get the real story out there.

The truth is a part of it too, somewhere, in the eye of the spin.

Kevin Hall, the departing press secretary for Gov. Tim Kaine -- and before that, for Gov. Mark Warner — did his job for six years while maintaining an authentic voice. He seemed to earn the trust of the Capitol press corps by blending a personable style with a straightforward, sardonic wit.

(And nothing disarms a reporter or colors a quote as well as sardonic wit. Although, to be fair, the relentless questions Hall faced earlier this year about unfairly applied abusive-driver fees and Kaine's role in them — "They're unconstitutional?" Hall said incredulously once, in mock aghast — may have worn him down slightly.)

The reporters who cover Capitol affairs gathered at the governor's mansion last week without their notebooks to toast Hall goodbye, leaving wet umbrellas heaped in a pile on the front steps. Hall's family members joined him, along with other press staff and Hall's replacement, Gordon Hickey.

While at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the bow-tied Hickey sat through many a red-eyed City Council meeting watching Kaine as councilman, then mayor. But he's on the other side now, and Hall's going back to work for Warner, who wants to be senator.

The Oct. 24 reception cautiously lowered the veil between the people who spin news and those who try to cut through the spin, putting them side by side to drink up and sample fried ravioli, pork, cheese and crudités.

Longtime AP reporter Bob Lewis, a big bear of a guy, led three hearty toasts (with three glasses of what was purportedly vodka but was actually water). Referencing the aforementioned abusive-driver fees, Lewis advised the crowd to "drink up!" so the state could bring in some revenue to fix the roads.

The media mingle (and some cliques) included Matt Demlein, an anchor at Hall's former employer, WRVA, and folks from the Washington Post, the Roanoke Times, Channel 29 and others. The reporter who likely traveled farthest was the always-natty Sean Lewis, who left Channel 12 in March to work at Chicago's CLTV. He'd come all the way just for Hall's going-away, but he played down the flight.

Before it was all over, at least one drinking glass had crashed to the mansion floor, and Bob Lewis had accidentally knocked over a framed photo that had been given to Hall. Then reporters left for darts and beer at Richbrau.

The governor showed up, having changed out of his suit and into a plaid flannel shirt. Note to Hickey: This is when you say Kaine is a "man of the people."



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