WASHINGTON — Recession? What recession?
Revelers at the presidential inauguration festivities in January aren’t likely to notice any signs of an economic downturn with the lavish galas and balls being thrown around town to celebrate the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama.
Tickets for the various star-studded bashes around town are going for more than $5,000 a ticket for some of the swankier festivities, and event organizers say interest and demand is high.
“We have definitely seen a steady increase in ticket sales in the last week or so,” said Sheridan Watson, president of the Georgia State Society, which is charging $200 for tickets to its ball at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. “We’re just now to where we’re distributing the invitation out widely, and we’re hoping to sell out.”
Each state has a nonpartisan society based in Washington, D.C., that fosters camaraderie among state natives now living in the capital, and most are hosting inaugural galas.
Tennessee State Society officials could not be reached for contact, but Ms. Watson, who also serves as press secretary for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said this will be the first time in recent history that the Georgia State Society has hosted an inaugural ball.
“We decided because of the high amount of interest in the inauguration and the excitement that President-elect Obama has generated, we would organize an event,” she said.
The Georgia bash will include a Peach State-inspired menu and live entertainment. The entire Georgia congressional delegation, along with Gov. Sonny Perdue and other constitutional officers, has been invited.
Millions of people are expected in Washington for the inauguration, which is expected to shatter the record of 1.2 million who attended President Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration in 1965.
Jim Bendat, a Los Angeles-based author of “Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009,” said ticket prices for inaugural balls are up this year, averaging $200 to $450 a person. That’s up from $150 for President Bush’s inauguration and $125 for former President Clinton, he said.
“There are so many people who are tremendously enthused about this particular inauguration,” he said. “It fulfills the dreams of so many people, and people are wanting to celebrate in a special way. It’s pretty clear people are going to want to do a little more than just standing in the cold for the ceremony and parade.”
Inaugural committee members note that the National Mall will be open free of charge to all visitors for the inauguration.
But with a recession in full swing, some say event planners have to walk a fine line between throwing a celebration worthy of this historic moment and appearing insensitive to the hard economic times that many Americans are facing.
“Having a huge, boisterous party probably sends the wrong signal,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers Against Government Waste, a Washington watchdog. “You have Americans worried about getting a pink slip, and you look at the inaugural ball, and people have Cristal (champagne). They need to be very cautious about how over the top these end up being.”
Ms. Watson said the Georgia State Society, recognizing these tough economic times, will donate a portion of its proceeds from its inaugural ball.