- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) | Hundreds of thousands of revelers rang in the New Year in a frigid Times Square, eager to say goodbye to 2008 and to put the nation’s economic troubles in the past.

Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Wednesday lower the famous Waterford crystal ball for its 60-second countdown to midnight. A ton of confetti rained down as partygoers hugged and kissed.

The wind chill made it feel like 1 degree in the area, but that didn’t deter the throngs who were cloaked in fur hats and sleeping bags.

“We’re worried about the economy, but hoping for the best,” said Lisa Mills, of Danville, Ohio.

Mrs. Mills and her husband, Ken, took her 17-year-old daughter, Kara, to Times Square for her birthday.

“We decided, we haven’t taken a family vacation yet, and this was a great time to do it,” she said. “We’re staying positive.”

Many other New Year’s Eve traditions around the country were in place, but some festivities fell victim to hard times, and those that remained felt somewhat subdued. The nation’s economic troubles made many people less interested in giving 2008 an expensive send-off.

Public celebrations were canceled in communities from Louisville, Ky., to Reno, Nev., and promoters in Miami Beach, Fla., reported slower ticket sales than expected for celebrity-studded parties that they say would have sold out in past years.

Tourism officials in Las Vegas expected more tourists in Sin City to celebrate New Year’s Eve than last year, despite economic worries that have meant fewer visitors in 2008, Mayor Oscar Goodman said Wednesday night.

Around the world, people paused for a deep breath and a sip of … perhaps something cheaper than champagne.

“We’re not going to celebrate in a big way. We’re being careful,” said architect Moussa Siham, 24, as shoppers in the affluent area west of Paris were scaling back purchases for the traditional New Year’s Eve feast.

Sydney, Australia, was the world’s first major city to ring in 2009, showering its shimmering harbor with a kaleidoscope of light that drew cheers from more than 1 million people.

At the Vatican, in the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI called for “soberness and solidarity” in 2009. During a year’s end Vespers service Wednesday evening, the pope said these times are “marked by uncertainty and worry for the future,” but urged people not to be afraid and to help one another.

Meanwhile, Pauleene Romero, from Anchorage, Alaska, came to the chilly Times Square celebration by herself on a whim.

“I had a bad year,” she said, not wanting to elaborate. “I just wanted to do this for myself, as a way to start off a new year.”

Others waiting in the windy winter cold were optimistic about 2009. Sam Tenorio and his family drove to New York from Orlando, Fla., so his teenage daughter Brianna could see the Jonas Brothers perform live in Times Square.

“The economy is what it is. It’s going to turn around. You just have to be positive,” Mr. Tenorio said. “That’s what we’re doing; otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. I think that’s why most people are here tonight: optimism.”

In Milwaukee, Cherie Klaus, a retail manager, was adamant about maintaining her New Year’s Eve tradition. Every year her parents fly to Wisconsin from the Philadelphia area, and her family reunites at different relatives’ homes, wrapping up with the big event in Ms. Klaus’ home.

“I probably didn’t spend as much money on Christmas presents, maybe 25 percent less,” said Miss Klaus, 53, “but we never cut back on family.”

Others weren’t so lucky. Windy weather and rough harbor waters caused Baltimore officials to postpone a New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration. In Reno, officials canceled their fireworks show for the first time since 2000.

“With the downturn in the economy, with people getting laid off and with the tightening of budgets all over town, we just didn’t think it was right to spend $20,000 or $30,000 on something that goes up in smoke,” Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said.

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson expected to save $33,000 by canceling a New Year’s Eve party he traditionally throws, a spokeswoman said. Hundreds of revelers were still expected to watch the Times Square countdown on a big screen at a separate, free event in the city’s downtown business district.

Elkhart, Ind., planned a party at its outdoor skating rink, with volunteers leading some games, instead of a $5,000 event with fireworks. The city hadn’t received any complaints about the scaled-back celebration, said Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to the mayor.

“I think most people understand,” he said.

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