Washington Gears Up For Inaugural Blow-out

Wednesday, 05 Nov 2008 10:31 AM

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WASHINGTON — The smoke hasn't even cleared yet from the momentous White House race, but plans for Barack Obama's week-long victory bash and January 20, 2009 inauguration are already well under way.

Hotels are filling up — some of the favorites are already booked solid — while requests are coming in for the roughly 240,000 tickets available to the public for the quadrennial party, event planners say.

Officials have made arrangements to get nearly 30,000 chairs set up on inauguration day, mostly on and around the grounds of the west side of the US Capitol, where the oath of office is traditionally administered on the Capitol steps.

They also aim to provide blankets and thousands of ponchos if the weather turns nasty, because security precautions forbid umbrellas.

"And these are not fancy ponchos. These are human sandwich bags," joked Carole Florman, communications director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies that plans much of the day's celebrations.

Members of the public who want tickets will have to ask their senators or representatives, while others will go to top US military officers and the foreign diplomatic corps, Florman told AFP.

Some world leaders are likely to attend, but "you can bet (Iranian) President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad won't be coming. We won't be saving a seat for him," she quipped.

And don't ask what the hottest ticket in town will look like: "We can't say, because of security precautions, the color scheme or the design," she said.

If history is any guide, the new president's typical day will open with a church service, a White House meeting with his outgoing predecessor, the vice president's swearing in, the president's oath of office, the inaugural address, a formal lunch, a parade back to the White House, and inaugural balls.

Organizing those singing, dancing and boozing affairs falls to the presidential inaugural committee, which the 44th occupant of the White House will create after the November 4 election, said Florman.

Posh hotels, especially those along the parade route up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, started filling up months ago, and some are already booked.

"We're sold out," said Barbara Bahny-David, a spokeswoman for the super-swank Willard Hotel, which will be decked out in red, white and blue finery, with two US flags fluttering from each window.

There will be a special lobby decor reflecting Obama's hometown of Chicago, like the cowboy boots made out of yellow Texas roses when President George W. Bush took office in 2001, she told AFP.

Several of the Willard's guests — a number of them inauguration veterans who return every four years — booked four-night packages that entitle them to special gifts each evening, including one from Tiffany jewelers, said Bahny-David.

While many clearly will be looking to put the "party" back in "political party," purists will be focusing on the peaceful handover of power between elected representatives, a hallmark of democratic rule, and historians will note the first new president of the era after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

And while the new president's inaugural address is closely guarded, there is no mystery about the most important words of the day — they are in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse

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