Despite rush, D.C. ready for inauguration

After a five-week rush to prepare the nation’s capital for this weekend’s inaugural festivities, district and inaugural planning officials say the city is ready to perform its quadrennial ceremonial duties.

The four-day fete began Thursday, with an opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, with musical performances by pop stars Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson. Events are scheduled to continue throughout the weekend.

The prolonged election debacle surrounding Florida’s vote tallies posed a logistical nightmare for planning officials, who had their 10-week preparation period cut in half.

Construction crews could only do so much to prepare the city before an official president-elect was announced in December.

Police began collaborating on procedures and preparations for the estimated crowd of 200,000 protesters and hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists last October, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said.

“Our department has been working with the U.S. Secret Service, which is the lead law enforcement agency, since October … to prepare for the inauguration,” Ramsey told metro-area residents in an online chat sponsored by washingtonpost.com

The truncated planning period left many party planners and caterers scrambling to book hotels and ballrooms.

Groups from both political parties made reservations filling all of the area’s ballrooms well before November, anticipating a win by their candidate. When no winner was announced on Election Day, the reservations from both parties remained, leaving some who wished to organize an inaugural ball stranded until early January, when reservations were canceled.

The George Washington University, which is sponsoring the “Unofficial Youth Ball” Saturday night, didn’t have a ballroom secured until Jan. 11 for its estimated 3,500 guests.

While most plans were running smoothly Thursday, there were still some glitches in the system.

Federal employees in the district were granted liberal leave — but not officially allowed to leave early, snarling rush hour traffic that collided with closed streets, bridges and presidential motorcades.

VIP ticketholders at the opening ceremony had to wait an extra hour and a half to be let through the Mall’s designated entry points, which were complete with metal detectors.

Also creating headaches for officials are the planned protests that are estimated to bring anywhere from 200,000 to 750,000 people of all political persuasions. At least a dozen groups were granted protest permits by the city along the inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Ave.

Protest permits were granted to groups such as the Christian Defense Coalition, a group that is against abortion; the Gore Majority, a group that is protesting the election outcome; and Millions for Mumia, a group advocating a new trial for convicted murder Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests that effectively shut down the city in April, police anticipate vocal crowds to descend upon the city this weekend.

“The inauguration presents totally different challenges than last April’s World Bank/IMF protests,” Ramsey said. “The diversity of the groups coming to Washington to protest, the length of the parade route, the number of dignitaries attending and the number of associated events such as balls, all combine to pose a tremendous challenge for our department. Our job is to simply maintain the peace — in this case, to allow the inauguration and all the … events to take place as scheduled and to allow citizens, both for and against our new president, to openly express their views.”

by Ashley M. Heher

Police are urging businesses across the city to take extra safety precautions by securing loose items like flowerpots, tables, chairs and garbage cans, securing windows on buildings and enhancing building security.

D.C. police will also have the assistance of other nearby agencies throughout the weekend, Ramsey said.

Police from Fairfax County, Va., Arlington County, Va., Alexandria, Va., Prince George’s County, Md., Montgomery County, Md. — as well as state police from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania — will accompany Metro police, National Park Police, Capitol Police and the United States Secret Service.

“We have doubled the number of officers assigned to this event,” Ramsey said. “I can assure you that there will be a strong police presence both at the Inaugural Parade and in our neighborhoods throughout the city.”

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