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Published: Sunday, 1/21/2001

Thousands convert capital into Texas-sized fiesta

BY KAREN MACPHERSON AND RACHEL SMOLKIN
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - As rain spattered and temperatures fell, thousands packed into subway stations, tromped through mud, and waited in endless lines for a chance to see George W. Bush become President and lead his inaugural parade.

Some were diehard supporters from across the country. Texans celebrated in boisterous Texas twang. Men often sported cowboy hats and hand-tooled leather boots; many women wore fur coats.

Some were protesters, still angry about an election they believe was stolen, usurped from the voters by the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. They were true believers, mostly peaceful, who carried black balloons or signs such as “Hail to the Thief,” “Dubious George,” and “Bushwhacked by the Supremes.”

Others wanted to be part of history.

Dale Jumet of Somerset, Pa., said she voted for Al Gore but went for Mr. Bush's big day anyway.

“It's a historical event. He's the President now,” she said.

Harried police officers struggled to keep pace with the streaming crowds, who in their excitement and frustration refused to remain on the sidewalk. Signs directed guests to their seats at the swearing-in and in bleachers for the parade based on the color of their tickets - tan tickets to one gate, blue to another.

But the signs were not always clear, and puzzled ticket holders relied on each other to ask whether they had found the right line. They were out of luck if they hadn't; it was far too crowded to correct a mistake.

The weather worsened as the transfer of power neared. The rain intensified, the wind grew stronger, the temperature seemed to plummet. At noon, Mr. Bush was sworn in before a crowd huddled together at the Capitol and on the National Mall under rain slickers and ponchos.

“I think George W. will do a great job,” said Matthew McKenzie, 34, a major in the U.S. Air Force who grew up in Fairborn, Ohio. “He's definitely a man of character and faith, and I think we need that after the past eight years.”

John Evans, 21, a junior at Gettysburg College, called Mr. Bush's address “the first speech in a while that made me feel good about being an American.” He especially liked Mr. Bush's emphasis on lowering taxes, improving education, and bolstering military power.

“I feel like we're done with eight years of tyranny,” Mr. Evans said.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) greeted guests at a joint reception he held with Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) in the Senate's Russell Office Building. They expected about 1,200 to attend, including Gov. Taft.

“It was a great speech,” Mr. DeWine said of Mr. Bush's inaugural speech. “It was clear to me that this will be a president who looks at the job of president as being a teacher and a leader.”

Mr. DeWine also praised Mr. Bush's emphasis on improving the lives of neglected or abused children. As Mr. DeWine spoke, guests thawed frozen hands and feet and satiated growling stomachs with hot cider, coffee, and sandwiches.

But the excitement of supporters was tempered by darker undercurrents. Even as President Bush claimed power, some protesters refused to recognize his legitimacy, maintaining that the marathon presidential election ended without a real vote count. They waited for the chance to boo the new Chief Executive as his limousine drove slowly past.

Dani Levine, 17, and her mom, Shelly Levine, braved the cold to denounce the denouement of the contested election.

“I can't feel my fingers; I can't feel my toes,” said Dani Levine, who carried a sign that read: “Bush is a smear job.”

Still, she and her mother said the discomfort was worth it.

“Let Bush see that more than half the people here don't believe in him,” Shelly Levine said. “Let Bush and Bush be only one-term presidents.”

Suzie Dunlop, 46, of Austin, Texas, wore a University of Texas Longhorns ball cap and sweatshirt. She was so frustrated by the Supreme Court's decision that she went to Washington for her first political protest.

“I would have been able to accept Bush if we had counted all the votes,” she said. “I didn't vote for Reagan either, but that didn't hurt my gut like this.”

Protesters voiced other concerns as well.

Four blocks from the White House, a couple with gigantic cardboard and papier- mache caribou heads provided a striking contrast to the masses of umbrellas and rain hats. Their cause: Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska from oil drilling.

Despite the anger from protesters, the parade proceeded on a cheery note, a Texas-sized celebration complete with floats and marching bands. The parade featured the Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team of Vail, Colo., and the University of Texas marching band, flashing their trademark “Hook 'em Horns” sign as they passed the presidential reviewing stand.

For some people, the parade represented another day's work.

Vendor James Williams gripped his soggy umbrella as he urged dripping passers-by to drop $3 on Bush-Cheney buttons.

“I voted for Gore. I didn't support Bush. I think he stole it,” Mr. Williams said. “But we should give him a chance anyway. His father had a chance, and he should have a chance.”

He said business was good.



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