Washington: Inaugural revelers hoping to get close to President Barack Obama at a ball are going to have a lot of competition, with around 40,000 expected to pack the pair of parties.
While Obama has cut the number of inauguration night balls lower than any president since Dwight Eisenhower was first sworn into office in 1953, the two celebrations the night of Jan. 21 will be elaborate. The Inaugural Ball is expected to draw more than 35,000.
That's a lot of elbows around the cheese plate. And to think how that increases the chances of someone else wearing the same dress.
But it also reflects the quadrennial demand in Washington for a chance to celebrate the end of an election year and toast the president in person on such an historic day, if only from across a cavernous room packed with tens of thousands of his closest friends. The Inaugural Ball is being held across all 700,000 square feet of the Washington Convention Center's five exhibit halls, which four years ago held six separate balls.
The Commander In Chief's Ball, a tradition started by President George W. Bush to offer U.S. troops a chance to join the celebration, is being doubled in size over four years ago to about 4,000. It's being held on the third floor ballroom of the convention hall a mile from the White House. Tickets are free for invitees, including active duty and reserve troops, Medal of Honor recipients and wounded warriors. The increase in tickets for fighting men and women to enjoy an evening with their spouses reflects a focus by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, on supporting military families.
Demand has been high for entry to the balls. Inaugural planners offered a limited number of tickets to The Inaugural Ball for sale at $60, and they sold out quickly Sunday night when Ticketmaster accidentally sent out an email ahead of time announcing they were available. Inaugural organizers are trying to stop a swift scalping business for the tickets that have been cropping up for sale online.
That's even though city officials are predicting a drop in attendance to 600,000 to 800,000 for the inauguration this year compared with 2009, when a record 1.8 million packed the National Mall to see the first black president sworn into office.
Those who can't get into the convention hall with the Obamas can still carouse into the night at several unofficial balls across Washington. And members of the president's staff will get their own chance to celebrate with the president, with a staff ball planned for the day after the inauguration. Last year the private affair was reportedly quite a bash, according to one attendee, with rap star Jay-Z singing a riff on one of his hit songs, "99 problems but George Bush ain't one," to the delight of the throngs of young staffers who worked so hard to turn the White House Democratic.
More tickets to the Jan. 21 The Inaugural Ball will be on sale, but not to the general public. They will go to campaign volunteers, community leaders, elected officials and other invitees, as well as donors being asked to contribute up to $250,000 individually or $1 million from corporations to pay for the festivities. Invitees will be sent an email in the next few days with personalized Ticketmaster account information they can use to purchase up to two tickets.
The Inaugural Ball's halls extend across two floors, so the president and first lady plan to spin on the dance floor of each level. At the Commander In Chief's Ball, the president and first lady plan to continue the tradition of dancing with members of the military.
Inaugural planners said the cut in the number of balls was to reflect tough economic times and minimize the burden on law enforcement, other security personnel and Washington residents. But could it also be an effort to give the president some relief from having to dance to the same song over and over again all across town in front of CSPAN's live cameras on an already exhausting day?
President George W. Bush didn't hide his annoyance during his second inaugural festivities at having to put on the display to a musical medley that included "I Could Have Danced All Night." Could have, but did not: He and first lady Laura Bush danced for a cumulative total of just 8 minutes, 54 seconds across 10 galas. He was back at the White House by 10 p.m.