Miles of barriers and fencing came down across the heart of Washington yesterday, just as the unprecedented security for the nation's 55th inauguration was being reviewed by elected officials, law enforcement agencies, the business community, historians and visitors.
The question was simple: Was it too much?
At the Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington, bellmen Freddy Garay, left, and Leo Ramirez prepare to load a departing guest's car.
(Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) said yes. The U.S. Secret Service, which was in charge of security for the inauguration, said it was needed. But Miami Police Chief John Timoney, who was in charge of security of two Republican national conventions when he served in New York and Philadelphia, suggested that there may be a middle ground between pre- and post-Sept. 11 security levels for big events.
It will be four years before Washington hosts the next inauguration, but already some people are questioning how tightly the capital has to be restricted to celebrate one of its most honored national events, this one featuring a president who stressed global liberty.
Such measures, said Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian who was in Washington for the inauguration, have "been gradually evolving, with more and more security each time since, probably, John F. Kennedy's assassination. . . . And what is sad is that you find yourself accepting it. And then you look back at past inaugurations and see how different it was. Even at the time of World War II, there were no sentry boxes at the White House, and people could walk right up on the lawn. . . . I think we are going to have increasing amounts of security. And it is hard to imagine that is not true, sadly."
Goodwin viewed this week's inauguration through a historical prism, but those who are responsible for running the city are rooted in the here and now. On a day in which the president attended a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral and most city streets were reopened, some said they did not like what they saw.
Williams, a member of President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council who has spoken frequently of the need to preserve public access in the capital, said: "A president is entitled to his inauguration the way he sees fit, but it is a celebration of freedom and democracy in our country. It's not about the person; it's about the office. . . . A little more openness is called for. I think we've struck the balance too far toward security."
The mayor, whose administration has been told by the federal government to use homeland security funds to pay for a projected $11.3 million in inaugural costs, said his public safety aides are reviewing the final bills.
Greg Jenkins, executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, was unavailable yesterday to answer questions, according to Tracey Schmitt, a spokesman for the committee.
Others who were available held widely differing views. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, said street closures hampered the ability of inaugural guests and party leaders to move around the city.
"I don't think the public at large is critical," he said, "but all the ancillary things that were done for security, the impacts on the region were overdone. . . . It's just kind of sad in this country this is where we've come. This is not where you want America to be over time. You want to move more freely and get around, and this was very tough."
Like many young Bush supporters, Brittany Howell and Miller Hunt, both 17, left for home yesterday with mixed feelings about an inauguration day that was a blur of history and pat-down searches. Overall, they said, it was a worthwhile experience.
Howell, from Chester, Conn., and Miller, from Nashville, got into the swearing-in ceremony as members of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. Then, tickets in hand, they entered the security line to watch the parade.
"We waited in line for an hour and a half," Miller said. "We were at the yellow gate. They shut it off right in front of us."
Yet D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he felt security levels were appropriate and was happy with how the parade and other events turned out Thursday.
"The security was adequate," Ramsey said. "I have absolutely no regrets. . . . I think everything was fine. The crime was low yesterday, and the event went off without a hitch. . . . The cold weather had more to do with turnout than anything. Overall, I think [the security] was very, very good. I was very, very pleased."
Disagreeing with that view was Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who said that based on widespread concerns raised about the extent of security at the inaugural celebration, "some of our worst fears came true." One problem, Norton said, is that there is no forum in which public officials, security officials and others can set policies together. If decisions were made jointly, she said, security chiefs would not have to fear being blamed if they did not endorse the most restrictive steps.
"In a democratic society, security must be a collaborative process," Norton said. "Essentially what we do now is give security officials not only the last word, but the only word."
Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said the level of security was just right. "Overall we were pleased with the operation of our security plan," he said. "The levels of security were appropriate in this post-9/11 environment, and current world events dictated some of the precautions and security enhancements that were taken. Of course, the Secret Service will have an after-action review, and hopefully we'll be able to strengthen our plans in the future."
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said the massive number of officers and federal agents was needed.
"I believe that regrettably we have to do it now," said Gainer, who has shut down streets and taken other controversial steps to make Capitol Hill more secure. "Because of the state of the world today, we have to take these precautions. It only seems overkill when nothing happens."
Gainer said the world of law enforcement changed after Sept. 11, 2001, and will never be the same. "After 9/11, we started finger-pointing, and everyone wanted to know why law enforcement didn't do something to prevent it," Gainer said.
"What we saw yesterday was what democracy looks like," he said. "The push and pull between openness and security. We are not there to limit protest. We really are concerned about destructive and violent demonstrations and terrorists using the cover of the crowds to circumvent the safety." Part of the problem was protesters who clashed with police and burned flags at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, an incident the mayor said the city was investigating and about which he promised a report to the public
An outside voice suggested that despite the unflinching opinions of law enforcement, more relaxed days may be ahead. Miami's Timoney suggested that there may be a middle ground between pre- and post-9/11 security levels for big events.
"My own personal and professional opinion is that we probably do need to scale back on some of this," he said. "But I don't think we will ever go back to the way it was. If we used to do it with 2,000 police officers and we did it with 10,000 this time, maybe we can do it with 5,000 next time."
Thomas Lockwood, national capital region coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, said the question of balancing security and openness is a constant debate that should be aired between people and their elected leaders.
"It's a post-Sept. 11 world. We're in a different situation than we were four years ago," Lockwood said. "This is really no different than if someone hasn't been to an airport recently, seeing that many things have changed."
Local business leaders acknowledged the dramatic change from years past, when inauguration day meant lots of foot traffic and potential patrons for restaurants, bars and small businesses. Instead, much of downtown was empty for the day, and many commercial establishments shut their doors.
Greater Washington Board of Trade President Robert Peck said most businesses saw little direct benefit from the inauguration. "These events, that once used to be great for lots of businesses, now really aren't," Peck said. As a result of the lockdown, Peck said, "we no longer look like and act like a democratic, open city."
Still, he and other business leaders said the inaugural festivities remain a great way to showcase Washington to the world.
"It would be a huge mistake for us to overplay the inconvenience in the short term to some businesses, when what this really does is -- this is the reason that this area has led the nation for three years in job creation," Peck said. "It still reminds everyone in the world that Washington is pretty much the center of our universe. So, would we like to see the inauguration move to Cincinnati? No, thanks."
Staff writers Sari Horwitz, Maureen Fan, Theola S. Labbe, Paul Schwartzman and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.