President-elect George W. Bush kicked off inauguration weekend with the help of Latin pop star Ricky Martin at the Lincoln Memorial Thursday.
The 54th Presidential Inaugural Opening Celebration began the weekend’s theme, “Celebrating America’s Spirit Together,” as the first official event of the four-day festivities.
The theme is intended to join all Americans together in the wake of the bitterly decided election, which ended with Vice President Al Gore receiving more of the popular votes but Bush winning more electoral votes.
The Washington Post estimated that more than 40,000 people stood in the rain to celebrate Thursday.
Spectators could enter through one of five police checkpoints, walking through a metal detector and having bags searched. Security is expected to be increased for the rest of the weekend, because of protests that are expected to bring up to 750,000 more people to the city to voice their frustration, or in some cases praise, toward the new president.
At least a dozen different groups were granted permits to protest along Saturday’s parade route, and other smaller contingents are expected to roam the city.
Police closed the Memorial Bridge, which spans the Potomac River between Virginia and the Lincoln Memorial, to ignite a fireworks display and allow for motorcade traffic. The decision to close the bridge became contentious earlier in the week because the bridge, a major thoroughfare for the district’s employees, was scheduled to be closed at the height of rush hour.
Larry King, the host of Larry King Live on CNN, was the official emcee of the event. Retired Gen. Colin Powell — Bush’s designee for the position of secretary of State — gave the opening remarks.
Powell also introduced four-time Olympic swimmer Dara Torres. Both Bush and Vice President-elect Richard Cheney gave speeches.
“The presidency does not belong to any one person, but to all of us,” Bush said. “It belongs to the American people.”
But it was Martin who took center stage for the event, especially among the thousands of screaming teenagers who attended. Even Bush suggested that the excitement was for the vocal star, known for his hip- and pelvic-swinging moves.
A local radio station handed out “I Love Ricky” signs, which could be seen throughout the crowd.
Red, white, blue and gold fireworks exploded into the air as Martin finished his last song of the evening.
The 10-minute firework show was orchestrated by Grucci, the company that has done the display for the last six inauguration celebrations.
Although the Presidential Inaugural Committee had five weeks instead of 10 to plan the weekend’s celebrations, the opening ceremony had a star-studded list of participants, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, pop singer Jessica Simpson, Latin superstar John Secada and The Rockettes.