Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New York State Society's Bash in D.C.

The New York State Society of Washington, D.C., is holding a brunch at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 20, reports Gannett's LoHud.com. If you're not a member of the society, attending the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. brunch and viewing will run you $350. If you've got the cash, here's where to sign up.

According to Gannett, 1500 tickets have already been sold, compared to just 200 for the 2001 Bush inauguration event. Early birds got the cheaper worms. From LoHud:

The ticket price for the brunch has risen from $100 for the earliest purchasers who would have been confined to one ballroom to $320, because the group has reserved more and more reception rooms at the hotel to accommodate more participants.

New York does not have its own inaugural ball as some other states do, but Cary said a dinner for several hundred New Yorkers is under consideration if the hotel can make space available.

New Yorkers to celebrate the inauguration in style [LoHud]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Inaugural-goers with iPhones will have a distinct advantage

If you're attending the Inauguration in January, and you have an iPhone, CNET reports on a must-have application. And it's even free:

The free 2009 Presidential Inauguration Guide landing screen features an inauguration countdown, as well as the distance the user is from the steps of the Capitol building, where the event takes place.

The application also provides information about metro service and parking garage locations, a Zagat guide of local restaurants, a list of free nearby Wi-Fi zones, and information about the afterparties that are sure to keep Washington abuzz all night.

The application was developed by a law firm and a public relations firm, Patton Boggs and Qorvis, respectively. I trust their abilities to steer people to good restaurants and Wi-Fi zones in D.C., but I think the free/public afterparties will be a little too touch-and-go for an iPhone catalogue. But perhaps Patton-ers and Qorvis-ites are cooler than I am giving them credit for.

Unfortunately, this girl is iPhone-less.

iPhone app navigates Obama inauguration [CNet]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crowd Estimates Reduced by Half
(Or, it feels good to be right)

Earlier this month, I voiced doubts about the huge crowd predictions for the Inauguration, based on my interviews with New Yorkers about their travel plans. I wrote:

Rather than excitement mounting, I see excitement waning. Though there have been predictions of crowds up to 5 million, I am now wondering whether the numbers will be significantly lower.

Officials in D.C. are now agreeing with me. From the Washington Post:

Officials are casting doubt on an early projection that 4 million to 5 million people could jam downtown Washington on Inauguration Day, saying it is more likely that the crowd will be about half that size.

D.C. authorities said the earlier estimates, provided by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), were based on speculation surrounding the historic nature of the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the nation's first African American president. After weeks of checking with charter bus companies, airlines and other sources, they're reassessing.

It's funny how the prediction itself has become such a news story.

Some random items have popped up in the comments on this blog. One is a fairly practical guide to inaugural rentals, per "marcella." Rates look a bit high to me there. The other is an even more practical guide to bathrooms in D.C., per "jennifer." It is poetically titled "Where to Pee in D.C."

Inauguration Day Crowd Estimate Reduced by Half [Washington Post]

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let's talk about the weather

As I sit waiting for a monstrous New York snow storm, my mind is on the weather.

Belinda Dixon was one of the New Yorkers with whom I talked after Election Night who was absolutely committed to going to D.C. for the Inauguration. “It’s like going shopping at Christmas. Even if you’re not buying anything, you just want to be part of the crowd,” said Dixon, 57, a Democratic district leader from Staten Island, and a secretary for the NYPD. Her officemates actually started a "Send Belinda to D.C." fund, contributing to a jar on her desk.

But Dixon changed her mind after not receiving a swearing-in ceremony ticket from her congressional representative. Dixon walks with a cane and was worried about standing for long periods and navigating the crowds without a bleacher seat on the parade route, especially if the weather is cold and nasty. Dixon is now planning just to watch it on television in N.Y. Dixon attended Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, when she was a Democratic delegate. “As long as you can say you’ve been to one, that’s enough. Even if this is a historic one.”

So what is the deal with the weather? Weather has varied widely for past Inaugurations. Ronald Reagan bears the distinction of the two most extreme Inaugural weather days, with the warmest Inauguration on record in 1981—a balmy 51 degrees Fahrenheit—and the bitterest in 1985—at seven degrees Fahrenheit with a below-zero wind chill.

I called up weather forecaster Accuweather to ask about their prediction for Jan. 20. They couldn't give a specific prediction this far in advance (their range is limited to 15 days). But they could talk about patterns for the month of January. They are expecting mild weather patterns that month, and suggested that it could be warmer than the average high that day of 42 degrees. Niiice.

This also means that precipitation would come in the form of rain instead of snow. Which is a good thing, I suppose. I prefer snow to rain generally, but D.C. tends to show its Southern roots when snow hits. It has no idea what to do with it. When just a few flakes start falling, the city shuts down as if it were a massive Arctic blizzard at the End of Days.

Presidential Inaugural Weather [National Weather Service Forecast Office]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An NYC clearinghouse for Inauguration-goers?

The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC launched its Inauguration coverage yesterday. For Lehrer's first broadcast on the topic, he invited Washington Post metro reporter David Nakamura and myself to talk about travel preparation for the big event. Click here to listen to the show segment.

On the show, Brian Lehrer asked about any websites that provide a matching system for New Yorkers in order to coordinate travel to and lodging in D.C. I haven't found a site that fits the bill exactly. These are a few possibilities:

  • Facebook: Someone should invent a group travel application for the social networking site. There appears to be just one group dedicated solely to Inauguration travel: New Yorkers Road to Inauguration.
  • Craigslist: Check out the rideshare feature on Craigslist. When I typed in Inauguration, I got just one hit, but I am sure that will change closer to Jan. 20.
  • Google: While there doesn't appear to be one central clearinghouse for D.C. Inaugural trips from NYC, there are quite a number of Google hits for organized tours and bus trips. Good luck.

    Anyone else have any ideas for community sites for NYC wannabe Inauguration-goers? Please post them in the comments if you do.

    Inauguration Prep [WNYC]
  • Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Scaling back the crowd predictions

    I am not the only one doubting the numbers floating around for the size of the Inauguration crowd. Mayor Adrian Fenty has defended his prediction of three to five million people, but it turns out that his predictions are based on how many people the National Mall can actually hold. From WUSA9:

    Crowd calculations are based on a 3 square-foot per-person formula. Fenty said that means the National Mall can accommodate about 3 million people, and another 350,000 can fit along the Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade route. Overflow accounts for the rest of the crowd predictions.

    The Secret Service disputes those numbers, and is a bit more practical in gauging the size of the crowd. Secret Service Special Agent Malcolm Wiley tells ABC News:

    "Based on known hotel bookings within 100 miles of Washington, a known number of planes arriving in the area, and an estimated 10,000 charter buses coming to town, the Secret Service is preparing for a large crowd, but does not believe it will be close to 4 million people."

    The Secret Service does still think it will be "a larger audience than in any previous inauguration."

    One question I have is how full those 10,000 charter buses will be. I have spoken with a number of tour bus operators organizing trips from New York, and none of them has completely filled his buses. Most are half full at this point, with the majority of bookings made immediately after Election Night. "I have sold only one seat in the last three weeks," said Neal Kellman of SolidPlanIt.

    Feds, D.C. Prep for Inauguration Crowds [ABC News]
    Fenty Defends Predictions For Inaugural Crowds [WUSA9]

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Inauguration: Why celebrate?

    Brian Carso, an inauguration historian at Misericordia University, said people are drawn to the spectacle of the Inauguration and the celebration of their candidate’s victory. This year, Democrats will be celebrating the end of eight years of the Republican Bush administration, as well as a big moment in America’s 300-year long effort to deal with race.

    Clinical psychologist Bonnie Jacobson adds a psychological perspective. She says people look to groups to reinforce moods. Being at the inauguration heightens attendees' excitement and happiness.

    Carso was among the crowds at the senior President Bush’s 1989 Inauguration and an invited guest for the younger Bush’s 2001 Inauguration and said both experiences were valuable. “The peaceful transferal of power is more an exception [in the world] than the rule, and it’s something to celebrate,” said Carso.

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Inauguration Events in New York City

    With excitement about traveling to D.C. for the Inauguration possibly waning, New Yorkers may be looking for ways to stay indoors and stick close to home. There will be a number of Inauguration events held in New York, according to Carly Lindauer, spokesperson for the New York Dems, who plan to hold a large watching party at an area hotel.

    The Trinity Church at Wall Street and Broadway plans to provide a screening site for 400 people. After showing the swearing-in and presidential speech on a large screen, there will be a prayer and a three-hour peal of the church’s “change ringing bells.” The bells’ chimes can be heard in the blocks surrounding the Episcopalian church in the financial district.

    “The last special event we rang the bells for was the ticker tape parade after the Giants won the Super Bowl last year,” said public relations manager Diane Reed.

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    What better way to celebrate "Change" than drinking until 5 a.m.?

    As mentioned before, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has temporarily changed housing laws for the Inaugural weekend allowing residents to sublet their housing legally. The D.C. City Council also got into the act, temporarily suspending laws for something much more important: allowing D.C. bars to stay open until 5 a.m. throughout the weekend. (Usually, bars in D.C. close at 2 a.m.)

    However, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) wrote a letter to Mayor Fenty with concerns about the party-all-night law, per the New York Times. They fear it will strain law enforcement resources.

    Some feisty, late-night-loving D.C.-ites are not pleased. They've started an online petition to "Save The Parties." And there's even a Facebook group devoted to the cause (which my D.C. friends invited me to join).

    Excitement among New Yorkers about the Inauguration may be waning, but D.C.-ites are still fired up.

    District Raises a Glass to History [Washington Post]
    Senators Urge Reversal of Longer Bar Hours During Inauguration [New York Times]

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Inauguration weekend events in D.C.

    The main event of Inauguration weekend is Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony, but that does not take place until Tuesday. With Monday being MLK day, many traveling to D.C. hope to make it a full weekend event. While waiting for the ceremony and processional parade to the White House, what will people in town for the Inaugural weekend do with themselves?

    There are official inaugural balls organized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which are TBA as of now. And then there are unofficial balls, organized by State Societies and other groups. with tickets ranging from $100 to $1000.

    The Washington Post has an article based on Destination D.C.'s listing of events:

    Those parties will range from elegant to sparse, with guest lists and prices to match. Washington's A-listers usually skip balls for quiet dinners with friends and leave the public celebrations to visitors and newcomers in town.

    New Yorkers, that means you!

    Inauguration? Follow All the Bouncing Balls [Washington Post]

    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Excitement Waning?

    On Election night, New Yorkers poured into the streets to celebrate Obama's historic win.

    Here's a YouTube video with film of the reaction on St. Mark's place in the East Village-- spontaneous dancing on the street:

    ... and in Williamsburg:

    ...and in Harlem:

    When I started reporting this story, I thought that the momentum of these events would carry on to Jan. 20. As I called and reached out to sources for the story, many of Obama's supporters in New York vowed to be in D.C. for the Inauguration.

    But as I continue reporting, I have found that the majority of those I talked to are now recanting. The story seems to be changing before my eyes. Rather than excitement mounting, I see excitement waning. Though there have been predictions of crowds up to 5 million, I am now wondering whether the numbers will be significantly lower.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    The 'People's Inauguration'

    I thought the Mandarin Oriental $200k package was extravagant. But it seems like small change in comparison to J.W. Marriott's $1 million "build-your-own-ball" offer. The Washington Post reports that the 300-room package--including four suites, $200,000 worth of food and drink, and a rooftop parade-watching site just over the Pennsylvania Avenue processional route-- was booked within hours of Election Tuesday.

    Given the hefty price tag, one might think the purchaser was a mega-bucks corporate type using the Inauguration as an occasion to fete business partners. Instead, it's a little known non-profit, the Stafford Foundation, which plans to give the rooms free of charge to "disadvantaged people, terminally ill patients, wounded soldiers and others down on their luck." The Foundation is dubbing it "The People's Inauguration."

    The man behind the Foundation is Earl Stafford, a Virginia businessman who founded a military contractor company called Unitech. Here's what he told the Post:

    Stafford said the idea was inspired by his deep religious faith and the good fortune that has come his way. The inauguration is an opportunity to remember the less fortunate and remind the country of its traditions of benevolence, he said.

    "We've gotten away from those core values that made America great," he said yesterday at the headquarters of his company, Unitech, which provides weapons simulation systems to the military. "We just need to get back to caring about one another."

    That's quite a contrast to all the other folks trying to profit from the Inauguration.

    The Benefactor of the Ball [The Washington Post]
    Spread the Wealth Around [Slate]

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    A housing bonanza on Craigslist

    With the crowds expected to descend on D.C. in January, local residents are turning entrepreneurial. While the sale of swearing-in ceremony tickets has been banned, with threats of $100,000 fines and imprisonment, there is a booming market for sublets. As of today, there are over 1,000 Inaugural temporary rentals available on Craigslist.

    I talked to one area resident, an executive director of a non-profit (who asked not to be identified), who found a taker for his one-bedroom condo in Cleveland Park. He posted the sublet on Nov. 21 and had one person e-mail him. This weekend, they finalized the deal: $750 per night for three nights, which adds up to more than the rent on the condo for a month.

    The D.C. government is supporting its residents' entrepreneurial instincts, with Mayor Adrian Fenty temporarily suspending laws that would make these rentals illegal. From the D.C. government website:

    With the 2009 Inauguration less than two months away, hotels and motels in the District are booking up very quickly. On Thursday, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced an Executive Order, temporarily suspending the enforcement of city regulations that require residents to have a basic business license and a certificate of occupancy for short-term leasing agreements on residential property, making way for District residents to rent their homes during the Inaugural period.

    The New Republic gathered some of the more extravagant listings on Craigslist by those "trying to cash in on Obama’s victory." One of them is a "rowhouse on 14th and P [that] is going for $10,000 for five nights." I contacted the rowhouse's owner, who said, "I put it up as a total lark. Haven't gotten a single hit, even after being ridiculed in the New Republic."

    Rooms for Rent [The New Republic]