Chattanoogans gear up to go to inauguration

Chattanoogans gear up to go to inauguration

January 16th, 2009 by Adam Crisp and Matt Wilson in Local Regional News

Chattanooga resident Erik Gray supported President-elect Barack Obama during last year's election, but that's not the main reason he and his family are going to Tuesday's inauguration.

"It was kind of provoked by our 5-year-old," Mr. Gray said. "He said he wanted to know where the president lives."

The Grays will be part of a crowd of hundreds of thousands - a handful from the Chattanooga area - who will descend on Washington next week. There, they'll get to see the White House, the National Mall and the swearing in of the United States' first black president.

Mr. Gray said his son Rigby's political interest was piqued after the boy participated in a mock election at his school, Battle Academy. So Mr. Gray and his wife, Stacy Gray, booked a hotel room in Washington even before the election officially was called for Mr. Obama.

One snag, though, is that the Grays have not been able to get tickets to the inauguration event itself. Tickets, which are distributed by members of Congress, have been hard to come by.

The office of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., had fewer than 200 to give, while the offices of U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both R-Tenn., and Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both R-Ga., had fewer than 400. Yet they received tens of thousands of requests, officials said.

Mr. Gray said his family isn't letting its lack of tickets hold them back, though. They may try to get a view of the ceremony, he said, or may find a spot where they can stand back and see the crowd.

Chattanooga attorney Blair Bennington Cannon definitely will be part of the inauguration audience. She managed to get some tickets from Sen. Corker's office, she said.

This will be Ms. Cannon's second presidential inauguration. She went to President Bill Clinton's 1997 swearing in, she said.

"This one is going to be more of an adventure," Ms. Cannon said. "We're just kind of planning on going with the flow."

She said she's definitely expecting more security at this inauguration than the one 12 years ago.

"It's just part of the world we live in today," she said.

University of Tennessee President John Petersen, also is attending.

"Having an opportunity to see (the inauguration) is just historic," he said. "I think it is going to be a phenomenal piece, and I have no idea what to expect."

Justin Wilkins, who served as East Tennessee volunteer coordinator for the Obama campaign, didn't bank on getting a ticket but said he aimed to go anyway.

Luckily, he said, he managed to get a ticket through some other volunteers, and he said he's staying with some friends, even though "they may not know it yet."

Mr. Wilkins said he's "humbled and extremely grateful" to get to go.

Chattanoogan Annie Hall, who ended up supporting Mr. Obama but started last year's campaign season as a Hillary Clinton supporter, is going, too.

"I'm delighted he's selected Hillary to be his secretary of state," she said. "I have no regrets."

A group of more than 250 Chattanoogans will board two charter buses and a rented van that's headed for the inauguration Sunday. John Taylor, a Chattanooga funeral home operator, is among those who will be onboard.

"Words just can't express how excited we all are," Mr. Taylor said. "This is truly a moment in history, and I'm so happy to say I helped make it happen."

Mr. Taylor and his family received tickets from Rep. Wamp's office. Some in his group weren't so lucky, but the entire party is staying about two hours from the inauguration site - the only lodging in the Washington, D.C., area that was available, he said.

Staff writer Joan Garrett contributed to this story.