For Obama's second inauguration, a subdued, less crowded Washington

Samuel P. Jacobs
Reuters Middle East

* Inauguration crowd likely to be less than half 2009 total

* Vacancies at luxury hotels, restaurants

* White House slashes number of official black-tie balls

WASHINGTON, Dec 26 (Reuters) - It is one of those occasions

that is quintessential Washington: the inauguration of a

president, a multi-day festival of patriotism, politics,

optimism and self-congratulation.

All of that will be on display on Jan. 21, when President

Barack Obama is publicly sworn in for his second four-year term.

But this inauguration will be far less grand than Obama's first

in 2009, when a record 1.8 million visitors flooded the city to

see the nation's first black president take office.

This time the celebration is likely to attract no more than

800,000 or so guests, city officials estimate. As a result, some

luxury hotel rooms and coveted tables at high-end restaurants

are still available, less than a month before the inauguration.

The swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with its sweeping views

of the National Mall, initially required inauguration guests to

make reservations for four nights. Now it has relaxed that

requirement to three nights to try to fill its rooms.

But the "inauguration markup" still applies: The Mandarin's

least expensive room, normally available for $295 a night,

starts at $1,195 a night during the long inauguration weekend.

Even so, the demand for hotel and restaurant reservations

for this inauguration pales compared with the rush that followed

Obama's first election.

Back then, the scramble for accommodation was so desperate

that homeowners and renters in Washington and its Maryland and

Virginia suburbs leased their homes for the inauguration,

creating a vast secondary market in housing that week.

Hundreds of those homeowners - including former Tennessee

senator and actor and Fred Thompson, who offered to rent out his

condominium for five days for $30,000 - sought to profit from

the festivities and leave town to avoid the crowds.

Today the website Craigslist shows only a few dozen ads

offering housing for the inauguration.

"They swarmed to the market last time," said real estate

agent Hill Slowinski, who deals in luxury properties. "We are

not seeing the same level of interest" this year.

The story is similar at the Palm restaurant, which offers a

$54 rib-eye steak and is a favorite of Democratic power brokers.

Some tables are still free for Sunday night, Jan. 20, the

evening before the ceremony.

Looking over the reservations for that night, Tommy Jacomo,

who has run the restaurant for four decades, said: "It's

mediocre. Nothing out of the ordinary."

Jacomo said that for many of Obama's supporters, the 2009

inaugural celebration was a history-making one that can't be


"The second time, it's always not that big," he said.

That has been the case in recent second-term inaugurations,

particularly Republican Ronald Reagan's in 1985. Thanks to

brutally cold weather, that became a mostly-indoor affair in

which Reagan took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural

address in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda rather than outside the


For Obama's second inauguration, the thrill might be

lessened further by the fact that he will take the official oath

of office from Chief Justice John Roberts in a closed ceremony

the day before the public festivities - on Jan. 20, as required

by law.

Because that day falls on a Sunday, the public events - the

swearing-in outside the Capitol, Obama's inaugural address, the

parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White

House, and the inaugural balls - will be held a day later.

Hans Bruland, the general manager of the Hay-Adams Hotel who

is working his fifth inauguration, said the lack of excitement

for a president's second time around should be expected.

He said the ongoing negotiations between the White House and

Congress over looming tax increases and budget cuts - and the

threat of economic calamity if some sort of deal isn't reached -

are clouding the mood in Washington and could be affecting the

plans of some potential celebrants.

Obama's first inauguration took place as a worldwide

financial crisis was unfolding, but his history-making ascent to

the White House seemed to trump such concerns, at least for a

few days.

"Oftentimes, we don't remember what normal feels like,"

Bruland said. "People tend to panic a little."


Such economic jitters are one reason Obama's second

inauguration will feature just two official balls, rather than

the 10 that were held in 2009.

Both will be at the Washington Convention Center on Jan. 21.

One ball will be for the public and guests, the other primarily

for military families and veterans.

There will be a few unofficial balls held by various groups,

but this will be the fewest number of official inaugural balls

by any president since Dwight Eisenhower's first term in 1953 -

a reflection of Obama's effort to keep the celebration low-key

at a time when many Americans are struggling financially.

For all that relative austerity, there will be plenty of

opportunities for big-spending Obama supporters to wrap

themselves in luxury.

For $60,000, guests can stay four nights in the Mandarin

Oriental's presidential suite, with 24-hour butler service and a

private dining room.

A champagne cork's flight from the White House, the

Hay-Adams is renting its largest suite for $7,900 a night.

Before the 2009 inauguration, Obama and his family occupied an

entire wing of the hotel before he was able to move into his new

digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

One early indication that there will be fewer visitors

filling such expensive beds - and contributing to the

festivities - was the president's decision to widen the search

for funds for his second inauguration.

In 2009, Team Obama raised a record $53 million for his

inauguration, without donations from corporations, lobbyists,

and political action committees as part of a "commitment to

change business as usual in Washington."

This time, Obama supporters have welcomed donations from

such groups. A spokesperson for the presidential inauguration

committee, which manages the effort, declined to comment on the

pace of fundraising so far.

In 2009, the maximum donation for individuals accepted by

the committee was $50,000. This year, Obama's fundraising

committee is encouraging gifts of $250,000 from individuals.

That kind of generosity will earn givers access to VIP

receptions, reserved seats for the inaugural parade and other



There is one group that appears to be fired up and ready to

go to Washington: his former campaign workers.

One volunteer, Catherine Lyons, a phone bank coordinator in

Emeryville, California, said she was so excited that she bought

plane tickets for Washington before Obama's re-election was


On the morning of Nov. 6, Election Day, Lyons went online

and bought a seat for a cross-country flight.

"It was a little risky," Lyons, 25, said. "Bravery or a

little stupidity, however you want to see it."

Also heading to Washington will be Shomari Figures, 27, a

lawyer who was a field organizer for Obama's campaign in Akron,


"The excitement," Figures said, "is still there."

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