Inaugural committee begins distributing ceremony tickets, unveils smartphone app


Congressional staffers pick up boxes of presidential inaugural ceremony tickets to be distributed to members of Congress on Capitol Hill on Jan. 14. Legislators receive a set number of tickets to hand out as they see fit. (Michael Reynolds/EPA)

A congressional committee on Monday unveiled the color-coded tickets that will admit lucky — or well-connected — people to President Obama’s second inauguration Jan. 21.

And none of the tickets were purple. That was a point emphasized more than once by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, as if to show that the organizers of the swearing-in ceremony are doing everything in their power to avert a repeat of the debacle that stranded thousands of purple-ticket bearers four years ago.

The committee also unveiled an app for smartphones that will help guide ticket-holders to their seats. After downloading an application, a person would be connected to Global Positioning System data that show his current location. He can then plug in his ticket color and receive a map and directions to the appropriate gate. About 300 volunteers also have been recruited to help show people to their seats.

“The Third Street Tunnel was a big mess, and that’s closed,” Schumer (D-N.Y.), who heads the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, told reporters Monday morning. “I can’t promise you it’s going to be perfect.”

This time, the committee said, there will be better signage for people beginning their journey farther away to help them navigate to the ceremony, and organizers will be monitoring social media to look for problems as they arise, a spokesman said. That, too, is a change prompted by 2009’s “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” when thousands of people were blocked from their seats. Many tweeted about the foul-up.

“People were not informed as to where to go,” Schumer said. “So they sort of approached the Mall anyplace. And then they had to wait on line. And three-quarters of them at any entryway were told, ‘You’re on the wrong line.’ . . . We’re avoiding all that with the smartphones and the volunteers.”

The congressional piece of the festivities that taxpayers fund — the swearing-in ceremony and the luncheon — will be cheaper, too, by about $3,000, Schumer said.

The tickets will be distributed to members of Congress, who can give them away as they see fit. Schumer said each member gets the same amount, but the committee does not disclose what that number is.

After the news conference, Schumer visited the room where congressional staffers were signing for boxes of tickets assigned to each member, as well as a printed guide that will help the holders get to where they need to go on the day of the ceremony.

At noon Monday in the offices of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative to Congress held a lottery for a limited batch of inaugural tickets. Capts. Yolanda Lee and Paul Martin of the D.C. National Guard took turns drawing about 200 numbered ticket stubs from a basket representing about 4,000 people who have asked for the passes. Norton said her staff was calling around Capitol Hill to see whether representatives from farther states had extras, Norton said. She said that if the District were represented in Congress like a state, there would be more tickets to go around.

“We feel we are at a decided disadvantage,” Norton said. “We’re the home town, and the capital of the United States, and there’s only one person to go to, and that’s me.”

Those whose numbers were drawn will face one more step before they can pick up the tickets. Norton said the winners must pledge that they will attend the ceremony regardless of the weather and the fact that the passes are for a standing-room only section. The recipients will also have to sign a pledge not to sell the tickets. She expressed concern about reports that tickets to the official inaugural balls and the swearing-in ceremony have appeared on eBay and other Web sites for thousands of dollars.

“To profit off the president’s inauguration on tickets that were meant to be free is unfair,” she said.

Obama will take the oath of office in private Jan. 20, as required by the Constitution, and repeat the oath in a public ceremony Jan. 21, which coincides with the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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