- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the best seats in the house, Barack Obama’s inauguration proved to be a mix of serious reflection and fraternity-like ribbing with a dash of celebrity gazing.

A select group of 400, warmed by individual blue blankets, sat on the platform to witness history up close. Folding chairs were standard for most; only the principals - such as Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush - sat on cushioned, highback chairs. Obama family and friends, members of past and soon-to-be administrations, Supreme Court justices, lawmakers and stars of Hollywood and sports were arrayed in rows beyond the podium.

Moments proved poignant, somber and funny.

There was Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend whose own oratory skills have forever been changed by Parkinson’s disease, getting help from a family member who tried to put warm gloves on those famous hands.

There was actor Leonardo DiCaprio, playing paparazzo and taking photographs. Academy-award winning director Steven Spielberg also was camera-ready.

There was California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger comparing notes with former Gov. Gray Davis while standing in the aisle in the risers near the main platform. Asked to move, Mr. Schwarzenegger jokingly told a young woman, “We’re solving a budget crisis.”

California is facing a budget deficit that is expected to exceed $40 billion over the next year and a half.

The nation’s governors who attended proved to be a frisky lot. Seated in several rows on the left side, just above the main platform, they decided to have some fun when Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Mr. Obama’s choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, showed up.

“Hey, Janet,” they called out in unison.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine explained that Miss Napolitano once headed the National Governors Association and they wanted to get her attention.

The memorable moment for Mr. Kaine was the stretch of Mr. Obama’s speech when the new president spoke to the world - “so powerful,” Mr. Kaine said. “The people and the world are paying so much attention.”

Scores of senators wore cowboy hats, from Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus to Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the man Mr. Obama defeated to win the presidency, skipped the hat but chose distinctive black shades.

Former basketball star Magic Johnson posed for photographs with many of those in attendance, including a governor or two.

New York Democratic Rep. Gary L. Ackerman was the first lawmaker to arrive, and he immediately claimed one of the best seats on the platform - directly next to the steps, front row. To avoid the traffic crush, Mr. Ackerman said he and his wife slept at his office.

Asked if he was taking that prime seat, Mr. Ackerman told a congressional aide, “Yes, we could and yes, I am.”


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