WASHINGTON: Tens of thousands of visitors — most, but not all, happy Democrats — streamed into a dressed-up capital city this weekend as organizers prepared for an inauguration that, while not as grand as four years ago, is still cause for celebration for supporters of President Barack Obama.
Barbara and Loren Ing drove their minivan here from rural Ohio, lugging a trailer filled with glass centerpieces. As a volunteer for the society representing her native state, Illinois, Barbara Ing — who ordinarily works in the layaway department of her local Kmart — spent months creating the table decor for the society’s inaugural ball, one of countless unofficial parties marking Obama’s second swearing-in.
At the historic Willard Hotel — where the four-night inaugural rate for elegant “Oval Suites” is $22,800, with a $27,000 catering minimum — women in mink coats and pearls milled about the lobby. The bartender mixed “Blue Hawaiians” in honor of Obama’s birthplace.
By Saturday afternoon, out-of-towners clutching maps strolled past the White House in the bright sunshine, as street vendors hawked inaugural trinkets. Parade reviewing stands were decked with patriotic bunting, Pennsylvania Avenue was lined with flags, and across town at the Washington Convention Center, workers were busy erecting lighting and stages for Obama’s two official inaugural balls. Tens of thousands of ticket holders will cram into the 2.3-million-square-foot convention center on Monday night to hear Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and the cast of TV’s Glee — all while hoping for a glimpse of Obama and his wife, Michelle, twirling around the dance floor.
“It’s clearly not as big or as plentiful or elaborate as the last time, but in many ways for Democrats, it’s even sweeter,” said Hilary Rosen, a prominent Obama supporter. “People are thrilled about the president; there are a record number of women in the Senate. Gay people are happy, and Latinos. You have these pillars of the election; it meant something different to everybody, but it culminated in this collectively powerful feeling.”
For Donna Hardy, a federal employee from Oakland, Calif., who walked in front of the White House on Saturday clutching a newly purchased “Obama” hat, the second swearing-in is more historic.
“An African-American being elected back to back?” she asked. “I don’t think we’ll ever see that again.”
Officials expect 600,000 to 800,000 people to turn out on the National Mall to witness Monday’s ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol — a crowd typical for most inaugurations but far short of the 1.8 million who clogged the city in 2009, creating pedestrian gridlock that kept many attendees from getting to their seats.
Obama will take his official oath today just before noon in the Blue Room of the White House. Monday’s festivities, which coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, are ceremonial.
To honor King, Obama designated Saturday a national day of service. He and Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, spent part of the afternoon helping to refurbish an elementary school in Northeast Washington, with hundreds of other volunteers organized by the City Year nonprofit group. Barack and Michelle Obama stained a bookshelf.
In the evening, the first lady and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, hosted the Kids’ Inaugural Concert, an event paying special tribute to military spouses and children.
While much of Washington is gearing up for a party, some Republicans are lying low.
“My wife had a partial knee replacement, so I am staying with her in Mississippi,” Trent Lott, the former senator from that state, wrote in an email. “Most Republicans will be otherwise busy. Some will attend events and parties, because it does only happen every four years.”
But Democrats are in the mood to celebrate. Emily’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who favor abortion rights, was planning a party for 1,400 to welcome female congressional newcomers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The Futuro Fund, which mobilized Hispanic voters in support of Obama, staged a symposium on Latino issues on Saturday as part of a three-day “Latino Inaugural.” The group was planning a star-studded celebration at the Kennedy Center ontonight, headlined by Eva Longoria, the Desperate Housewives actress, Jose Feliciano, Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno and others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.