Washington — The outward preparations for Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration are in full swing.Chain-link fences blocks Pennsylvania Avenue as workers in hard hats scurry on a blustery Friday to prepare for festivities that are expected to draw a record crowd.
Gray metal girders are already in place near the familiar fountain on the White House North Lawn, forming the shell for a bulletproof presidential reviewing stand. Across the street, at the edge of Lafayette Park, an orange construction crane is pouring concrete that will anchor stands where Obama supporters can simultaneously watch the new president and his inaugural parade.
Hidden work on the cabinet
Even more consequential work on the inauguration is taking place out of sight. At the Presidential Transition Office on the 38th floor of the Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago, Obama and his advisers are hard at work assembling the president’s cabinet.
There are leaks aplenty, but no cabinet officers have been officially announced so far. Speculation currently centers on the following line-up: Sen. Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), Bush holdover Robert Gates (Defense), New York Fed President Timothy Geithner (Treasury), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (Commerce), and former Clinton administration official Eric Holder (Attorney General).
Huge turnout expected
Whoever Obama picks for his team, the inauguration is expected to draw a massive crowd. Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said earlier this week that “you could have an inauguration that could be in the 3-to-5 million viewership – either on the Mall or on the parade route.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said on the Senate floor that 1.5 million people could come to the capital to see President Obama sworn in.
Either prediction would break the record set in 1965 when 1.2 million visitors arrived for President Johnson’s inauguration.
That kind of a crowd would overwhelm the supply of local hotel rooms. A report in the Washington Post noted that only a few of the city’s 29,000 hotel rooms are available for inauguration week. Washington-area residents are offering to rent their homes for amounts as large as $20,000.
Even rooms in West Virginia are hard to find, according to a report in The State Journal of Charleston. “Our hotel and all the hotels in this whole area are completely full,” said Tom Belfield, general manager of the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg, W.V., about 90 minutes from Washington.