- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Break out the blowup beds. If you live within a 25-mile radius of the nation’s capital, more than likely you have a host of new relatives and friends you haven’t heard from in ages. They act as though you just came into a small fortune.

“No more, no more,” said one friend living in a three-story row house in Northwest, “I already have five,” ticking off the list of relatives who have asked to stay with him during the historic celebration to watch Barack Obama sworn in as the first black president on Jan. 20.

President-elect Obama’s urban agenda? President-elect Obama’s pasty “Clinton Cabinet?” President-elect Obama’s economic priorities?

No. What folks want to know right now is “where the party at?” and “do you know anybody who can get me a ticket to it?”

The hottest tickets sought around town - for a personal close-up glimpse of the nation’s symbolic savior at the U.S. Capitol swearing-in ceremony, for the Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade and for the coveted Walter E. Washington Convention Center inaugural gala ball - don’t even exist yet.

Mr. Obama and the fledging transition team face enormous challenges with a tanking economy and two wars, but finding a place for masses of supporters who want the front row to history in the making, may well be the first big test of this administration.

Even the official 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee for the “New Birth of Freedom” festivities isn’t completely chosen, and there aren’t any rooms left at either the D.C. inns or solidly-booked five-star hotels within the city’s 68 square miles.

Don’t call us. The congressional office of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, was inundated for two days by more than 3,000 calls just to be placed on a list for the 240,000 reserved-space tickets that will be distributed via senators and representatives. She had to cry “Uncle Sam.”

“I share the excitement and enthusiasm of my constituents, but I am concerned that even the few who obtain tickets will not be able to get through the crowds at the Mall,” Mrs. Norton said in a prepared statement to explain why her office “had to cease taking information.”

“The only people sure to get a view of the parade and swearing-in are the people who watch it on television in the comfort of their homes,” she added.

Don’t bet on it. We’ll be bumping into more lost tourists than we do for the Cherry Blossoms or the July Fourth fireworks. Metro is destined to break ridership records.

Mrs. Norton plans to meet with inaugural officials and representatives from the Office of Homeland Security, U.S. Park Police and the Metropolitan Police Department later this week to talk about developing alternative viewing sites and setting up JumboTrons outside the Mall. Organizers are also warning against fraudulent Web sites selling free inaugural tickets.

“This will be bigger than anything we’ve seen,” said Norton spokeswoman Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery.

Barely hours after the polls closed Tuesday, civil rights stalwart Lawrence Guyot asked me how he could help a friend from Mississippi, Rip Daniels, find rooms and parking for three busloads of folks coming to Washington for the inauguration.

Lots of luck. Try Waldorf, Md., or Woodbridge, Va. That’s the closest that Mississippi caravan will get to town, I said, and it’s a 45-minute commute in the middle of the night these days.

Mr. Daniels, also a civil rights activist and owner of the American Blues Network, remains undaunted. According to Mr. Guyot, he may be collaborating on an inaugural project with Howard University’s WHUR-FM.

So, Mr. Guyot called on the appropriately-named Marshall Brown, a veteran organizer of major marches and protests on the Washington Mall, including the Million Man March and singer Stevie Wonder’s march to make a holiday of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

“No more,” Mr. Brown said, too. “I had a guy called me from Pittsburgh [looking for a room] and I haven’t heard from him since ‘88.

“It’s way past the deadline” for finding D.C. accommodations, he says. “People are going to be renting their houses.”

Check Craigslist. At least one New Orleans man offers to cook gourmet meals in exchange for lodging. One woman called offering me a facial if I could find her a ticket, any kind of ticket. “I just have to be there,” she whined in a way repeated by others.

Hey, I’m banking that my press pass won’t even squeeze me by inaugural security.

WTOP-FM reported yesterday that 1.5 million people, 2,000 of them journalists, are expected for the four-day period surrounding the inaugural. Local businesses, according to the Washington Business Journal, are hoping to the heavens that they will benefit for a few months from spinoff “meet-and-greet” activities generated by the new administration.

Mr. Brown, whose son Kwame was re-elected to a second term as an at-large D.C. Council member Tuesday, suggests that the presidential inaugural committee should give multiple galas at various D.C. venues as they did for Bill Clinton. He also advises D.C. visitors to arrive a week early.

Forget driving. Dust off your binoculars.

“The closest you may get to Pennsylvania Avenue could be at 14th and Rhode Island,” Mr. Brown said.

More than a half-dozen blocks? That far?

“What are you going to do with 2 million people?” Mr. Brown asked. “There is going to be an overflow. It’s like water flowing and where does the water go?”

Mr. Brown agreed that it will be a “very, very big challenge” for the 2009 inaugural committee, this year headed for the first time by a woman, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to handle the enormous “once-in-a-lifetime” crowds who want to be a part of history. But “it can be done.”

Perhaps; watch for those “rooms for rent” signs.

D.C. residents are already being pressed to spread the sleeping bags and blowup beds around. Now, if I could only find those emergency guest towels.


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