Inauguration Planning Is In Full
Quadrennial Job Began months before the
Americans won't pick the guest of honor until tomorrow,
but the Washington community started planning months ago where
thousands of inaugural celebrants will sit, stand, sleep and
party when the next U.S. president takes the oath of office Jan.
In a town where large crowds are commonplace, the
inauguration with its parade, balls and numerous other
activities--is still considered a big deal. And planning for this
once-every-four-years extravaganza is a herculean effort.
"After the election, you only have about 10 weeks to pull
it off," said Ron Walker, a senior partner at the search Firm
Korn Ferry International who planned the inaugural festivities
for Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
You have to be very well organized. It is a 24-hour-a-day job.
There is no time to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas or New
In other words, start early.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies
began work in September and has designed the tickets and programs
for the tens of thousands forecast to watch the swearing-in
ceremony at the Capitol. The printing, of course, must wait until
there are names and photographs for the spaces that are now
The Republican National Committee and the Democratic
National Committee have reserved the same blocks of rooms--more
than 1,100 of them--at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel and the
Renaissance Washington Hotel.
And the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which plans,
coordinates and provides support for official inaugural
activities, has been operating since July and has spent $3.1
million on preparations. Its full-time staff of 325 will grow to
819 by inaugural week.
The military has been involved in inaugural planning since
George Washington took the oath of office in 1789. But because
things change, said a spokesman, Col. Doug Coffey, it is not
practical to dust off the old plans, not even the ones used four
This year, for example, about half the money spent so far
paid for computer and communications equipment to track inaugural
events and the estimate 5,000 military participants. And the
Armed Forces has a home page on the World Wide Web -
http//www.dtic.mil/afic-this time around.
"Every president tries to find his place in history, said Tom
Groppel, director of ceremonies for the Armed Forces Committee.
It is flavored into the makeup of the parade, what we do in the
opening ceremony and in whether or not there are youth balls.
They have a lot of imagination. We just have to put a harness on
the imagination. If we don't have a good grip on what we are
going to do by the first of December, we are in trouble."
The engine that will drive the inaugural train, the
Presidential Inaugural Committee, is not created until after the
election, when the incoming chief executive will appoint his own
people. Still, representatives for President Clinton and
Republican nominee- Robert J. Dole have made discreet inquiries
within the past week to Walker, according to the veteran
(Dole, a spokesman said, has decided that his inaugural
parade route would include the closed stretch of Pennsylvania
Avenue in front of the White House.
Walker said he told both camps that whoever wins the
election should immediately develop a timetable, appoint one or
two honorary chairmen to the inaugural committee, create the
official and~unofficial invitation lists and begin raising
several million dollars in seed money from private donors
to pay for such inaugural activities as the balls, concerts and
other gatherings for the first family and its guests.
The size and cost of presidential inaugurations have grown
dramatically. In 1969, Nixon's first inauguration cost $2.3
million and was attended by about 200,000 people. Clinton's 1993
inauguration cost $25 million to $30 million and drew about
For many, the inauguration offers a chance to make a good
impression--or a hefty profit. Inspired by the campaigns used to
promote San Diego and Chicago during the political conventions, a
coalition of Washington business leaders and the District
government now meets every Tuesday to develop ways to promote
Washington's tourist attractions and new business developments
during inaugural week.
Merchants will be urged to decorate their businesses with
red, white and blue bunting, and hundreds of residents, from
government employees to taxi drivers, will be asked to wear
buttons with the slogan "We're Glad You're Here."
"We are seizing an opportunity to shine," said Marie Tibor, vice
president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association.
"We want to present an attractive and newsworthy face to the
public and media."
Around town, many hotels are requiring a four-night
minimum stay during inaugural week and already have some takers.
"This is the one time we don't have to beg for business," said
Emily Vetter, president of the Hotel Association of
The Willard Inter-Continental Hotel, one of the few hotels
on Pennsylvania Avenue NW along the parade route, is fully
booked. Its 342 rooms are in such demand that the hotel began
accepting reservation requests, in writing, on Inauguration Day
four years ago.
At the Ritz-Carlton on Massachusetts Avenue, half the 206
rooms are reserved for the inauguration. And in keeping with a
tradition that began in 1988, the hotel is offering a Premiere
Presidential Package: $30,000 for a four-night stay in a suite.
The price, double what was charged in 1988, includes breakfast in
bed daily, a dozen roses daily, a gourmet dinner for 12 in the
suite's private dining room and a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce.
Four years ago, a Fort Worth couple paid $24,000 for the same
The Ritz-Carlton has conducted its own presidential
preference poll during the last two months, placing a ballot and
two cookies--one decorated with a donkey and one decorated with
an elephant--on the pillows of its guests.
Among the 1,166 people who voted--most of whom ate both
cookies--Clinton got 52 percent, and 38 percent picked Dole. But
Thursday, when the hotel ended the poll, Dole for the first time
won the weekly count, 48 percent to Clinton's 40 percent. Still,
Irene, a donkey who attends political events as a mascot for the
Democratic Party, is so confident that Clinton will win that her
handler, a retired Alabama farmer named Willie Kirk, has
reserved a suite at the Mayflower. Kirk said Irene plans to
participate in the parade and hopes to get an invitation to have
tea with the first lady in the Rose Garden.
November 4, 1996
By Marcia Slacum Greene
Washington Post Staff Writer
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