- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

The hottest seats in the District are not for the Redskins, the Capitals or any other sports team - and they are outside in the dead of winter.

Who has one of the roughly 240,000 tickets for Tuesday’s swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, has become a talking point in a city of talking points, and a way to prove one’s connections on both sides of the political aisle.

Members of Congress have been given 125,000 tickets to distribute to constituents and pretty much whomever else they please. The rest were given to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, mostly for staffers and people who worked on Mr. Obama’s campaign.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is formed every four years to help plan the inauguration, was in charge of the initial distribution of tickets to the inaugural committee and Congress. Each member of the House received 198 tickets, while senators were given 393, all of which were distributed Jan. 12.

While the tickets are not for sale, some in Congress have created inaugural packages in exchange for donations. One such package - offered by the inaugural committee for a donation of $50,000 - includes four swearing-in tickets, four parade seating tickets, four tickets to one of the 10 official balls, and tickets to several other events and dinners during inauguration weekend.

Some very prominent Americans, including actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and the chief executive officers of Google Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., have made the donations, which are listed on the inaugural committee’s Web site.

Capitol Hill lawmakers from the region have been swamped with requests.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting House member, stopped taking requests in November.

Mrs. Norton also wrote letters to every member of Congress, asking if they could spare extra tickets for D.C. residents.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, received more than 60,000 requests through his Web site to enter his lottery. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, said she received 50,000 requests for her 393 tickets.

Inauguration-related tickets have become such a hot commodity that people have gone to the Web to buy and sell them.

However, the Internet sites eBay and StubHub have decided not to help broker tickets at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Mrs. Feinstein introduced legislation, passed by the Senate Tuesday, to make scalping of inauguration tickets a criminal offense. Passage by the House before the inauguration is uncertain.

While tickets are not required along the parade route, roughly 5,000 bleacher-seat tickets were sold through Ticketmaster. The $25 tickets went on sale at 1 p.m. Jan. 10 and sold out within minutes.

“The Inaugural Parade is a celebration of America, and we are working to make sure that as many citizens as possible can take part in this historic tradition,” said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett S. Beliveau.

Several sellers on eBay last week appeared to attempt to skirt the no-scalping rule by offering an Obama pin or newspaper for roughly $150, with free parade tickets.

Officials estimate roughly 1 to 2 million people will come to the District for inauguration events. Also, most who will witness the inauguration and the 1.7-mile parade along Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest - from the Capitol to the White House - will be without tickets.

However, officials said last week the sidewalks can hold only 300,000 people, so thousands more could be turned away before the parade starts at roughly 3 p.m.

The National Park Service has made more space available to accommodate people gathered on the Mall. Enormous television screens will be erected on each side so that people will be able to see the swearing-in ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol.

The Secret Service will have 13 entrance points that open at 7 a.m. and will stay open until the area has reached capacity, which is expected to be roughly 300,000.

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