D.C. officials are gearing up for Inauguration Day festivities that will stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, a logistical tightrope walk that costs millions, requires onlookers to deal with street-level checkpoints and puts city hall in the hands of the Secret Service.
City officials expect a jubilant atmosphere and economic boon from thousands of visitors who arrive to see either President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney sworn in Jan. 21. Yet the occasion comes with myriad responsibilities for the city, ranging from security from the Metropolitan Police Department to assembling and breaking down a trio of reviewing stands for dignitaries, guests and media to take in the festivities.
D.C. Secretary Cynthia Brock-Smith said Tuesday that the Secret Service will set up a post in the John A. Wilson Building — located little more than a block from the White House on the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route — and have the final say on who enters and exits the seat of city government. Guests at the Wilson Building will have to be cleared by agents ahead of time, and officials should make sure they get catering or special equipment into the building by 10 p.m. on the preceding evening — a Sunday, she said.
Four years ago, “there were people on guest lists who were not allowed to come into the Wilson Building because they weren’t cleared by Secret Service,” Ms. Brock-Smith told Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council members at their monthly breakfast. “So needless to say, on that day, entry into the building is invitation-only.”
Construction of the reviewing stands will begin Nov. 10 and should be completed by Jan. 12, she said. The D.C. Department of General Services and the National Park Service — which controls the area in front of city hall — will oversee their assembly and deconstruction, scheduled to begin the day after the Inauguration and last into February.
While the District is tasked with these duties, it does not have to pay for all of them. On Tuesday, Mr. Gray told reporters that “at the end of the day we haven’t picked up the tab” for inauguration events, but it was unclear whether the city will be made whole.
“I know that we do not get reimbursed for the entire amount that is expended in connection with managing the Inauguration — MPD and public works and homeland security — but I can’t quote an amount,” Ms. Brock-Smith said.
Earlier this month, the office of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, touted her efforts to get lawmakers on Capitol Hill to put a $9.8 million payment to the District for inaugural expenses in the continuing resolution it passed to preserve federal spending through March. While it is common for the federal government to reimburse the city for such expenses, the payment had to be put into the short-term spending plan because it keeps spending at fiscal 2012 levels instead of adopting the fiscal 2013 payments that covered the inauguration expenses.
The District is hoping to see an influx of private dollars when visitors flood the city and take advantage of a provision in the city’s fiscal 2013 budget that allows bars to stay open until 4 a.m. during the week of the Inauguration and on certain holidays.
Mr. Gray is also fine-tuning his pitch for increased voting rights or even D.C. statehood to a captive audience. Although plans are not in place yet, the mayor suggested the city may try to catch the president’s eye from the viewing stand at city hall.
“We’re all very cognizant of the opportunity that we have before us,” he said Tuesday.
Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said he will be active during the Inauguration and “walk the avenue,” but the star VIP will be determined by voters on Nov. 6. While Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney vie for the honor, the city will be hard at work, said Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro.
“We plan for the Inauguration,” he said, “regardless of who wins.”
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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