Cover Story - January 21, 2009

Locals plan to soak up the big event in Washington

by Sean Howell

Several local residents are among the hundreds of thousands swarming Washington, D.C., this week for the inaugural of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Though there has been a widely reported scramble to find lodging, everyone The Almanac spoke to had a place to stay — though tickets to the inauguration ceremony were a little harder to come by.

"I have a good line on one," said a hopeful Katie Ferrick in an interview last week. Ms. Ferrick, a teacher who lives in Menlo Park, put her name in the lottery for tickets with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, but was relegated to the waitlist. Shortly before boarding a plane for D.C. on Sunday, Ms. Ferrick received word that she would get a ticket after all.

While Ms. Ferrick had planned to go to the capital whether she had a ticket or not, Vivienne Virani, an Atherton resident who will be in D.C. for the event, didn't even try for one. She's just going to "soak up the atmosphere and be a part of the event," she said.

Menlo Park resident Julie Brenner, who served as the office manager for the Democratic headquarters in San Mateo County in the months leading up to the election, was able to get a ticket through Ms. Eshoo's office. She hadn't initially planned on attending the inauguration, but several of her co-workers convinced her to sign up for the ticket lottery in the days following the election.

"It seemed like a natural step" after spending so much time campaigning, she said. "Kind of like putting a period at the end of a sentence."

Heyward Robinson, the mayor of Menlo Park, is also in the capital for the inauguration. He attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held over the weekend, and stuck around to watch Mr. Obama be sworn in. On Monday, Mr. Robinson sent an e-mail to the principals of several local schools, urging them to allow students to watch the event via television in classrooms.

Reasons for attending

Much has been said about Mr. Obama being the first African-American president, but the people The Almanac spoke with said they decided to attend for different reasons.

Ms. Virani said she was inspired by a speech Mr. Obama gave at a fundraising event in Atherton in January 2008; she promised herself back then that if Mr. Obama were elected, she would go to his inauguration.

Ms. Brenner, who joined the San Mateo County Democrats as a paid staffer before the Democratic primary had been decided, said she came to appreciate the fact that people who hadn't previously been interested in politics seemed to come out of the woodwork to support Mr. Obama.

Ms. Ferrick said all the talk about Mr. Obama's race following the election caught her off-guard.

"I can see why it's such a huge deal, and a monumental reason to celebrate, but I was really just thinking about his ability to bring change during the election," she said.


In anticipating the inauguration, Ms. Brenner and Ms. Ferrick were certain of two things: Mr. Obama would give a speech, and getting around town would be difficult.

Though the ceremonies weren't set to begin until noon EST, Ms. Brenner had planned to leave as early as 4 a.m. to stand in what she expected would be an hours-long line for the Metro. (Ms. Brenner and her husband bought Metro tickets by mail, so they could at least skip out on that line.)

Ms. Ferrick said she planned to ditch the Metro and pretty much just get around on foot — an adventurous proposition, because she's not familiar with D.C. She planned to go to a couple of parties, as well as a ball; in the week before the inauguration, she was scouring secondhand shops for a dress to wear.

Ms. Brenner, on the other hand, said she'd be happy if she were just able to make the inauguration ceremonies. She and her husband didn't have any sightseeing planned.

"It's not going to be easy to get around," she said. "I think we all just have to be on our best behavior, be positive and patient."

Ms. Virani planned to watch the inaugural parade from the apartment of a friend she's staying with who lives on the route.

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