- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

The continuing battle over the presidential election has left local caterers, hotels, party planners and political party committees not exactly sure what role they will play in the Inauguration Jan. 20.

But most hospitality officials aren't worried about accommodating inaugural balls and festivities despite the shorter-than-usual planning period.

"We are getting down to the wire," said Mame Reiley, vice president and general manager of PGI/ Washington Inc., an event-planning company in the District of Columbia. "You really have to have a good month to plan [the Inauguration]."

Planners usually have more than 70 days between Election Day in November and Inauguration Day in January. However, the wrangling over the election of either Democratic nominee Al Gore or Republican candidate George W. Bush already has cost planners 15 days in the planning process.

"It's not as much of a crunch for us as caterers we're used to people planning at the last minute," said Susan Lacz, principal at Ridgewells Caterers in Bethesda, Md. "We're OK. It's just annoying. It's annoying as an American."

The catering company has its hands full with Thanksgiving and holiday parties, so any inauguration plans would have been put on the back burner anyway, Ms. Lacz said.

"Right now we're trying to get 300 turkeys out the door … then we'll hit the holiday parties," she said.

Ideally, Ms. Lacz would like to start inaugural preparations Dec. 26, giving Ridgewells a little more than three weeks to plan for the events.

At this time in past inaugural years, the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a group affiliated with the winning party, was already formed and had started planning the details of the events leading up to the Inauguration, the galas and official inaugural balls.

To prepare the committee for its task, the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, a temporary military command made up of people from each of the five armed services, does much of the preliminary research and collects information about past inaugural celebrations.

While the Armed Forced committee's main job is to organize the military support for the Inauguration, the research it has done really lays the groundwork for the presidential committee, which has the final decision on how and where the inaugural celebration will be held.

Neither the Republican nor Democratic national committee has begun any official planning for the Inauguration.

"No one is calling the shots yet," Ms. Reiley said. "It's a little nerve-racking."

The parties of the presidential candidates' home states haven't started planning either.

"We haven't, for obvious reasons, been formally approached by Governor Bush's committee," said Robert Black, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas. "In the event of a Bush Inauguration, we will do and play whatever role they want us to."

The party of the president-elect's home state usually sponsors one of the official balls thrown on Inauguration night.

"We're just waiting like everyone else," said Tom Hayden, a spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party. "We haven't received any word on what our role will be. It's not really the chief concern right now."

The potential sites for the official balls, as well as the caterers and party planners, are waiting on the final decision from the winning party as to where the galas will take place. As for now, the spaces for parties and balls are just being held.

"Everybody's waiting for the same thing," said Rand Goodman, director of marketing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest. "We do this kind of thing all the time. [Planning] a week out is not going to make much of a difference."

Occasions Caterers in the District is still "gearing up for the 20th," said co-owner Mark Michael. The catering company already has parties booked by groups that will have an event no matter who wins.

Mr. Michael said if the election drags on past the holidays it could become an issue, but he isn't worried.

"We're used to doing things at the last minute," he said. "They could call us a week before and we would still pull it off."

Ms. Reiley said the longer the election drags on, the more the Inauguration will invade people's holidays.

"This screws up everybody's Christmas," she said. "People are going to be singing Christmas carols, drinking eggnog and stuffing [envelopes with] inaugural invitations."

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