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Published: Friday, 1/19/2001

Grand ol' parties under way in D.C. countdown

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON - As this oddest of work weeks comes to a close in government's ultimate company town, Republicans have instigated an earnest effort to earn the right to be called a political party.

What the polite people here call “receptions” are springing up all over the place.

An incredible fireworks display and laser light show over the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials last night acted as the starting gun, signaling food servers citywide to bring forth jumbo plates of jumbo shrimp and lots of drink to wash it down.

The pyrotechnics were the culmination of a show that featured a wide musical menu and speeches by the luminaries of the incoming Bush administration, including the president-elect, his vice presidential running mate, and Colin Powell, who won Senate confirmation yesterday to become the next secretary of State.

“I will treat the office with respect, and treat it with care,” Mr. Bush told tens of thousands of people. He said he will always remember that “the presidency belongs to us all.”

The ceremonies started not a moment too soon, breaking the mood near the conclusion of a tense week on Capitol Hill at the other end of the mall, where Republican and Democratic senators have waged a nasty battle over the confirmation of attorney general nominee John Ashcroft.

Michigan Republican Party officials tossed a grand gala at the swank Hay-Adams Hotel downtown. Tonight, Rep. Paul Gillmor will host a reception for about 150 visitors from northwest Ohio who arrived here last night to witness the inauguration.

The Ohio Republican Party hosts a party at the Sequoia Restaurant in Georgetown tonight.

“This is just great,” proclaimed Shirley Thomas of the opening ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial. She was taking a day away from the management of her husband's electrical contracting business just south of Baltimore.

“This sort of thing makes everything else less important and really focuses your mind on the presidency of George W.,” she said. “What a great way to start.”

“We just had to come down here to watch our man. We voted him into office - with the help of a lot of other people, of course, and we have waited a long time to see him take over,” said her husband, Chris.

The inauguration will be the first for them.

Betsy Shays, who works at the Peace Corps in Washington, said she is thrilled to be a part of a historic ceremony.

“I think it's just great to come and drink in the whole environment,” she said. “There is such a sense of freshness in the air here now, of new beginnings, of hope. This has set such a tone that I feel very proud to be here, and to be an American. Anybody who loves their country has to find it in their heart to wish this new [Bush] family the very best. They come into a job that has unspeakable demands, and their success will mean success for us all.”

Jim Carney, who works at a downtown Washington bookstore, and Joshua Hastert, oldest son of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who works for an Internet startup based near Capitol Hill, said they enjoyed the variety of musical acts at the opening show. It featured opera, salsa, rock, and a dance by the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall fame.

“There was a wide range of acts, and it was a great production,” Mr. Hastert said. “I look forward to the new presidency.”

There are some who made it clear they are less anxious for the beginning of the second Bush administration. Three members of Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, were arrested after climbing to the top of the building that houses the Interior Department to unfurl a banner protesting Mr. Bush's proposal to drill for oil in what some have called sensitive environmental areas.



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