I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen. ... (But) this inauguration is going to be very big. That bit of under- and overstatement from D.C. tourist honcho William A. Hanbury pretty much sums up the quandary facing the battalion of local, regional and national officials in charge of next month's inaugural events. They have to prepare for the unknown - and it is clear that to deal with this extraordinary event, unprecedented planning and cooperation will be needed.
Washington is used to big events, but the swearing in of Barack Obama as the nation's first African American president is an unparalleled occasion. Officials think that from 2 million to 4 million people could attend - far exceeding the record 1.2 million who reportedly attended the 1965 inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson. For the first time, the entire length of the Mall will be opened to accommodate the crowds.
Responsibility for events that will be spread over a four-day holiday weekend is split among federal agencies, special committees and local officials, with much of the burden falling on the District of Columbia. The Secret Service gets final say on all security issues, a congressional committee oversees the noon swearing-in at the Capitol, a military committee choreographs the parade, and local officials are supposed to ensure that services are in place. The problem with this balkanization is that it can lead to disconnections - such as the unilateral decision by the D.C. Council to extend last call for establishments that have liquor licenses without first consulting Metro officials to see about the provision of extra service. Likewise, is it really a good idea for the Kennedy Center to hand out tickets, first-come, first-served, to a free Aretha Franklin concert just two hours before the event? Or for Metro to require the use of farecards on a day when historic numbers of people (many of them unfamiliar with the system) will be flowing through the gates?
Part of the problem is money. Congress has set aside a paltry $15 million to help the District of Columbia defray expenses for all major events for the entire year (including the annual anti-abortion protest marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade that will follow Mr. Obama's inauguration by two days). Compare that, as The New York Times did, with the $50 million that Denver and St. Paul were allocated this year for security for the Democratic and Republican national conventions. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is right to try to get more money. Mr. Obama's inaugural committee, which raises private money for the festivities, needs to be involved in sorting out - and perhaps helping to pay - some of these costs. It also would help if the president-elect were to give officials the time they need to properly plan for the event by quickly releasing a full schedule of events.
- Washington Post
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