- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

Hollywood has the Oscars. New York has New Year’s Eve. But only Washington has Inauguration Day.

“It’s like Mardi Gras week,” says Tommy Jacomo, general manager of the Palm, which has already been booked for five private soirees the week of Jan. 20, 2005. “Nonstop parties.”

With the disputed election and Florida recount of 2000, no one was certain until December which political party would be hosting the swearing-in ceremonies and toe-crushing, drink-spilling gala balls, eight of which attracted 50,000 revelers to various cavernous venues across the capital.

This time around, Republican party planners have managed to get a jump on things, and luxury hotels are sighing in relief.

The Hay-Adams’ 145 guest rooms are already spoken for. The Jefferson — where Billy Joel canceled his rooms the day after his man, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, lost — is almost 90 percent booked. The premium suites, with a four-night minimum, go for a cool $4,500 a day, chicken feed to some of President Bush’s wealthiest backers.

At the Washington Hilton, “The whole hotel, every meeting room, private party room is already booked,” said catering assistant Erin Gray.

No Bush bash would be complete without the Gatlin Brothers, and a spokesman said the musicians are indeed scheduled to perform at the Maryland Ball. (No word yet on whether Bush supporters Faith Hill or Kid Rock will join the party.)

Texas businesswoman Jeanne L. “J.J.” Phillips (who planned Mr. Bush’s 2001 inaugural in just 31 days) is again running the show, with a committee including Mercer Reynolds, former ambassador to Switzerland, who served as national finance chairman for Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.

Although the official inaugural office doesn’t open in Washington until Wednesday, the buzz is growing. New York designers Badgley Mischka — whose beaded dresses sell for upward of $10,000 — are already stitching first lady Laura Bush’s 2005 Inauguration Day gown.

The bleachers are up. The streets are being swept, and limos are purring in wait. Presidential cuff links are on order. Red, white and blue bunting and souvenir stands on every corner. From the weird to the wacky, the inaugural promises something for everyone. Protesters and political pundits, tanned cleavage, kooky cocktails, private Gulfstreams, giant-sized foam rubber cowboy hats, boots, bustiers, Texas-size hair and a Wayne Newton sighting.

At Cafe Milano, the Georgetown restaurant will be serving a non-alcoholic drink in honor of the teetotaling president: cranberry juice. “Red for the winning states,” a spokesman said.

While the fat cats expecting ambassadorial posts chow down on tender porterhouse at the Prime Rib (the food at inaugural balls is notoriously bad, or nonexistent) starry-eyed red-staters get to tell the folks back home they saw the president take Laura for a twirl on a stage 300 feet away.

Bill Carter, manager of the Prime Rib, has been around town long enough to know that inaugurals for an incumbent president are usually pretty low key. The eatery has been booked for a large party by a public relations firm.

As for the guest list, Mr. Carter doesn’t have much hope that “Entertainment Tonight” will be on hand. “I don’t think this administration attracts the Paris Hilton crowd.”

First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush will no doubt offer some sparkle, and will be celebrating their own success as political celebrities.

Jan. 20 will be the sixth inaugural for the Bush family. Former President George Bush was sworn in twice as vice president and once as president, and was on hand for the swearing in of President Clinton in 1993, and now will see his son sworn in as president for the second time.

The lunch-brunch-cocktail and chicken Kiev post-parade buffets are a reward for loyal volunteers and fund-raisers. It’s Beach Week on the Potomac for political junkies who may be celebrating the final chapter of the Bush dynasty. The events will be funded by private and public money, and $2.8 million of government funds have already been allocated.

This year, the Homeland Security Department — a Cabinet-level agency that was nonexistent before the September 11 terrorist attacks — has designated the inauguration as a national security special event. That means increased federal funding with the Secret Service in charge.

“They’ll be a ton more security,” Mr. Jacomo predicts. “But once the party starts, it will be just like the others.”

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