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Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony: How to get inauguration tickets

Posted By: Abe Lincoln 6 January 2009 1,159 views No Comment

Platforms for the 2009 inaugural parade at the White House

How do you get tickets to the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama and Joe Biden?

It’s the thought popping into many people’s mind as they mull grabbing a flight (maybe you already have booked one) to Washington, D.C., for a front-row seat to history. But how do you get that front-row seat, or any seat for that matter, to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States? Let’s just say it’s probably easier to get a bill through Congress — but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

The theme of the 2009 inauguration will be “A New Birth of Freedom,” and for the first time, a woman and a Californian — Sen. Dianne Feinstein — heads the committee overseeing some of the festivities, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

So, let’s start with the basics.

The events: There are many — the parade, the swearing-in ceremony, the balls, etc. — and different committees (some of which haven’t even been formed yet) plan different aspects of the inauguration and issue and distribute tickets differently. Confusing enough for you yet?

The tickets: Let me just say this emphatically for those who still have money to burn despite the recession: Anyone selling a ticket to, say, the swearing-in ceremony, simply doesn’t have the goods. The 240,000 tickets that have been printed for this event “are in a secure location,” according to the committee.

“Any website or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,” Howard Gantman, staff director for the committee, said in a release. “Tickets for the swearing-in of President-elect are all provided through members of Congress, and the President-elect and Vice President-elect through the Presidential Inaugural Committee. We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great skepticism.”

The truth: Tickets to the swearing-in ceremony are free — but you have to request them from your U.S. representative or senator. Best to call his or her Washington office if you haven’t already. (I called the office of my congresswoman, Jane Harman, and got a staff person who didn’t yet have much information but helped me navigate to the “request a tour” form on Harman’s website so I could get a virtual place in line.) Demand will be high, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get tickets if they run out.

The loophole: It’s not illegal to resell your ticket, but it is, well, discouraged. “We can’t stop people from turning around and selling those tickets, but it goes against the spirit of an open public inauguration,” said media spokeswoman Carole Florman. But constituents won’t be able to pick up their tickets until the day before the event — leaving little time for an EBay bidding war.

The weather: After all that, even if you are one of the lucky 240,000 who gets a ticket held on the west front of the Capitol building, you may get shut out if the weather tanks. Inclement weather could force the ceremony inside (as it did in 1985 when President Reagan’s inauguration was held inside the Rotunda), dropping the number of spectators from hundreds of thousands to a few hundred.

Everything else: The parade and balls are organized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is just being formed. This committee determines the type of inaugural events to hold, raises private money to fund them and decides how to distribute the tickets.

More on that when I get hold of those folks…

— Mary Forgione, Los Angeles Times

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