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Published: Wednesday, 11/12/2008

Inauguration event is hot destination

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As President-elect Barack Obama plans to take the oath of office Jan. 20, the anticipation of seeing the nation's first black president sworn into office has caused demand for tickets at this year's inauguration ceremony to be higher perhaps than ever in history.

The government has printed 250,000 tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, which is free to the public.

Those tickets can be obtained only through the offices of U.S. representatives or senators, who will receive a limited number to distribute at their discretion to constituents.

Steve Fought, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), said federal lawmakers have not received those tickets yet, but that is not stopping online vendors from selling them for thousands of dollars.

"I don't know how anyone can say they've got a ticket. They've been printed, but they haven't been distributed," Mr. Fought said. "It is pretty much fair to say that anyone offering tickets online is not reputable."

Victoria Isley, senior vice president of marketing for Destination DC, the tourism office for Washington, said the only way ticket vendors or scalpers could obtain tickets is by pur-chasing them from Washington staffers.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Calif.), who heads the Joint Congressional Committee on inaugural ceremonies, is drafting legislation that would make selling inauguration tickets a federal crime.

"Anyone who sells one would be subject to severe discipline," Ms. Isley said. "Web sites that say they have them, the only way they would have them would be through a resale market. Someone would get them and sell them to a broker."

For those lucky enough to receive a ticket, finding a place to stay in or near Washington presents another challenge.

InterContinental Hotels Group spokesman Caroline Sanfilippo said Washington-area hotels rooms are sold out Jan. 19 and 20.

Local police and the Secret Service estimate an influx of 1.5 million to 2 million people will travel to Washington to bear witness to history.

Ms. Isley said the attendance record for an inauguration was the 1965 swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson. About 1.5 million gathered for that event, she said.

"There are a few hotels available in the outskirts of the market in Virginia and Maryland, but they are 30-plus miles out," Ms. Isley said.

Janene Jackson, senior vice president of external affairs for the Washington Chamber of Commerce, said some hotel rooms are available at inflated rates, and customers must stay a minimum of four nights.

"They've varied, but they're all on the high end," she said. "I've seen $800 a night. That seems to be the average."

Some Washington residents are renting out rooms in their homes on a classified ads Web site for days leading up to and after the inauguration.

"There's a gentleman here renting out his condo for $10,000 for the week," Ms. Jackson said.

Ms. Isley said Mr. Obama will be sworn into office at noon Jan. 20 on the steps to the Capitol.

Those with tickets can view the ceremony from the Capitol lawn, but crowd overflows may watch from the national mall and the sidewalks along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The ceremony will be followed by an invitation-only luncheon and then a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

No tickets are required to attend the parade.

Several inaugural balls, including one for each state, will take place during the evening.

Ms. Isley said tickets to the balls can be purchased through each state society's inaugural committee at an average price of $100 to $200 per ticket.

Mr. Fought said since Election Day, Miss Kaptur's office has received requests for more than 1,000 tickets and is turning some callers down, but a lack of a ticket to the inaugural ceremony is not deterring many northwest Ohioans who want to see the inauguration from traveling to Washington.

"They say that they're still going," he said.

"They hope to get a ticket, but even if they don't they're not going to miss this opportunity to see history."

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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