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Originally published Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM


1 million may attend inaugural

Barack Obama didn't measure the White House drapes before being elected president — as Republican rival John McCain accused him of doing — but Ron Walters' family effectively did.


Barack Obama didn't measure the White House drapes before being elected president — as Republican rival John McCain accused him of doing — but Ron Walters' family effectively did.

Weeks before Election Day, Walters began fielding calls from relatives who were looking for beds, couches, floors or any other sleeping space available in his suburban Washington, D.C., home in anticipation of Obama being sworn in as the nation's first African-American president on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

"I had 23 relatives call us to try to get space in this home, and that's going on everywhere around here," said Walters, a University of Maryland political-science professor. "We're trying to figure out how to buy all the futons and where to put them. But we'll be one big happy family. This is going to be a big celebration."

It seems as if everyone on Earth wants to come to Obama's inauguration, especially African Americans.

There are about 90,000 hotel rooms in the D.C. area and only a few are still available, for a price. Prices start around $400 a night, and for most there's a four-night minimum. One unidentified celebrant paid $1 million to book an entire 300-room Marriott. Hotels as far away as Richmond, Va. — 100 miles south — and Baltimore — 40 miles north — are raising their rates and getting bookings.

D.C. tourist office

As many as 1.5 million people may come for Obama inaugural festivities, according to officials at Destination DC, the District of Columbia's official convention and tourism corporation. By comparison, President Bush's inaugurations each drew 300,000 people, according to Rebecca Pawlowski, a Destination DC spokeswoman.

Members of Congress are responsible for distributing the free tickets for the swearing-in ceremony but they're having trouble keeping pace with demand, to the point that the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has capped tickets at five per family.

Staggering under the demand, some members of Congress have suspended taking ticket requests and others are talking about holding lotteries for the chance to witness history.

Some House members, who typically get several hundred tickets to distribute, have received more than 4,000 requests. The office of Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., said it had fielded 40,000 requests as of Monday.

Meanwhile, Web sites are advertising tickets, even though no tickets have been distributed.


About 240,000 tickets have been printed for the swearing-in, according to the congressional committee. Those tickets give people a spot to watch the event, but the public can come to the Mall to join the scene for free, albeit from a distance. The inaugural parade typically has standing-room space along the route, free to the public.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the congressional committee, announced this week that she is drafting a law to make it a federal crime to sell the tickets.

Scalpers on Web sites

But the thirst for tickets and lodging has created a cottage industry, with scalpers on Web sites such as eBay, Craigslist and StubHub seeking thousands of dollars for inauguration-related items.

On Tuesday, StubHub was listing tickets to Obama's swearing-in for as much as $5,350 each. is asking $495 to $1,724 for tickets to the inaugural parade — which also have not been distributed.

Those interested in buying tickets for one of the official balls are told to leave their e-mail addresses so that they can be contacted when tickets become available.

Some people also were auctioning off rooms Tuesday on eBay at modest chain hotels in the D.C. area starting from $1,599 to $2,250.

Luxury hotels are looking to cash in on Obama's coattails. D.C.'s Mandarin Oriental is offering a "Presidential Privilege" package for $200,900 that includes four nights in the hotel's 8,000-square-foot Presidential Suite, designer outfits for inaugural events by Ralph Lauren, a chauffeur-driven Maserati Quattroporte, dinner for eight at the hotel's restaurant and daily spa treatments.

Residents eager to turn an inauguration profit are renting out their more modest digs, but visitors still can expect to pay hefty prices. A four-bedroom house in Northwest Washington, D.C., is available on Craigslist at $35,000 for two nights with a chauffeur-driven black Mercedes thrown in.

Another entrepreneur on Craigslist wants $30,000 for the weeklong rental of a five-bedroom, 8,500-square-foot home in suburban Washington.

Senator's warning

Feinstein has suggested people think carefully before traveling to D.C., warning that hotel space is limited and temperatures on Inauguration Day could be "very cold."

And there is always that possibility that more space could open up on the ticketing front. Just don't count on it just yet.

Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the congressional committee, said more tickets could be printed.

That's "certainly one possibility," she said. "Printing the tickets isn't the problem. It's where do you put the people?"

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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