The thrill is back for many Americans as President Obama’s second inauguration approaches — though maybe a bit less intense.
This inauguration’s celebration will be shorter, and almost certainly smaller and less expensive, than the gala that drew nearly 2 million people to witness the first time an African American president took the oath of office.
There will be no massive rock concert on the Mall, as there was last time, and there will be only two official evening balls, including one dedicated to military personnel, instead of 10. Even the massive security cordon, which seemed to shut down most of downtown Washington four years ago, will be relatively modest.
But this year’s inauguration will fall on the national holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and that coincidence, along with an enduring fascination with the first family, is expected to boost attendance above any other second-term inaugurations.
And then there are people who stayed away four years ago for one reason or another and who want to make sure they don’t miss history this time.
“I watched on TV, and I wished I was in D.C.,” said Kaye Lin, 26, a producer with Voice of America who is hosting four friends, so far, at her townhouse near the District’s Eastern Market. “This is still as historic and as memorable as before. When is the next time you’re going to see a black man be reinaugurated and get his second term? It might be a long time. So I’m right there.”
Planners have spent months choreographing what one Air Force general called “quite a ballet” to guide the president’s steps and an army-sized support staff through the oath-taking ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, a grand parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and the events that follow.
The festivities will begin the Saturday before the 57th inauguration with a National Day of Service — which Obama is eager to make a permanent tradition — and wind down with a national prayer service the following Tuesday at Washington National Cathedral. As before, a huge security detail of military personnel and law enforcement officers, led by the U.S. Secret Service, will operate checkpoints, close roads and manage crowds.
Members of the newly sworn 113th Congress will be handing out about 250,000 tickets, although this time there will be no purple-coded ones — and, organizers hope, no repeat of the “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” an episode in which thousands bearing purple color-coded tickets were inadvertently blocked in 2009 from reaching their seats on the Capitol lawn.
Obama’s second time around will also have some firsts, or at least near-firsts. He will become the first president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to take the oath of office four times. That’s because of the do-over performed after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. flubbed his lines during Obama’s first inauguration, and because Jan. 20, the date prescribed for taking the oath, falls on a Sunday this time.
Although hotel bookings have not kept pace with bookings last time, when there was a 90 percent occupancy rate on inauguration eve, tourism officials say the tempo picked up after the holidays. Still up for grabs for well-heeled revelers were faux presidential suites at the Willard InterContinental with a view of Pennsylvania Avenue. The “Oval Suites,” featuring marble-floored entryways and a design based on the Oval Office, were going for $5,700 a night, with a four-night minimum and a $27,000 catering minimum.
Metro will expand service to handle crowds, and there will be a water taxi running from Alexandria. But Amtrak says it expects business as usual, and Virginia Railway Express won’t be running at all.
Doug Anderson, 55, who owns a charter bus company in Greenville, Pa., said nine groups have plunked down $2,000 each for 56-seat buses to Washington, compared with 25 buses last time.
“It was a monumental event when President Obama was initially elected, and it was a turning point in a number of ways in the national political arena. This year, it wasn’t quite as dramatic or climactic as it was the first time,” Anderson said.
Four years ago, inauguration planners initially braced for as many as 4 million people. An estimated 1.8 million people attended, making it the largest event ever in Washington.
Elliott Ferguson, president of Destination DC, a nonprofit group that promotes District tourism, said his organization is working on an estimate of 800,000 visitors this time, which is still higher than attendance generally expected for second inaugurals. President George W. Bush’s drew about 400,000 people in 2005.
Last time around, the cost was difficult to pin down because of the many groups involved. Government officials and media organizations estimated that Obama’s first inauguration’s total cost was about $150 million, including $54.3 million in private money raised by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a principal organizer of events before and after the oath-taking ceremony.