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Preparing for a Grand Old Party

Organizers -- and Protesters -- Gear Up for Inauguration '05

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page D01

We're T-minus 47 days and counting to Inauguration '05 and already know who the guest of honor will be -- marked progress from the last time the nation tried to do this. Everyone is so chilled out this time around that you'd think they already know how to do the Texas two-step.

This time four years ago, we were immersed in Florida, Florida, Florida and hanging chads and D.C. lawyers in Miami-Dade County. It would be another seven days before the Supremes picked a president -- and everyone was still so uptight that nobody thought to invite Diana Ross to the party.

Jim Green partied with wife Christine at the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball in 2001 at the Marriott Wardman Park. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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With President Bush already ensconced and the party planners and financiers already in place, perhaps there is more of a sense of humor as things get underway for the Jan. 20 event. Tension? Shucks, the inauguration of '05 ain't nothing but a party.

"This is the first time I've had a second time around, but it does seem a little easier, " says Carl Forti, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We're in the development stages of figuring out what we're doing, how we'll sell inaugural packages -- tickets to the ball, perhaps dinner or not."

The initial planning, some of which has already taken place, will begin to pick up this week. The fundraising for the $40 million or so -- at least that's what was raised last time -- needed for a proper bash is anchored by Cincinnati businessman Mercer Reynolds, chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign's record-breaking $273 million effort. Also back from the campaign are big-ticket fundraisers William O. DeWitt Jr., a former business partner of Bush's, and California venture capitalist Brad Freeman. Texas businesswoman Jeanne Phillips, who planned the 2001 inauguration, is back to direct this production.

It's so early that "all of our [phone] lines aren't up yet," said a staffer at the inauguration committee's office in the 300 block of C Street SW on Friday, adding that he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The person who is, Steve Schmidt, did not return phone calls Friday.

Even the protesters are getting prepared earlier this time. At the International Action Center in New York, co-director Sara Flounders says her group is making plans to send busloads of angry demonstrators to the District for the inauguration.

"Mainly, we'll be there because of the endless, illegal, criminal war being waged by this administration," Flounders says. "It's bankrupting every social need in this country."

And yet, while protesters make plans and police make corresponding arrangements that will tie up traffic all the way to Ohio, party people inhabit a parallel universe: Restaurants and hotels around town are already booked for the inauguration (four-day minimum stay, paid in advance and no refunds, thank you).

At the Hay-Adams ("As close as anyone can get to staying at the White House, short of being invited by the president") the hotel's 145 rooms are booked for every inauguration, no matter who gets elected.

"Whether it's the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee -- they're pretty bipartisan when it comes to room locks," says Hans Bruland, the hotel's general manager.

At the Ritz-Carlton's two locations, 385 of 386 rooms and suites have long since been booked (at rates ranging from $500 to $5,000 a night). The only suite left goes for $150,000 for a four-night inaugural stay, including a butler who comes to your house, packs your clothes in $20,000 worth of new luggage and takes them to the hotel and unpacks for you. At the last inauguration, when the doormen donned black Stetsons adorned by a pin designed by Washington artist Ann Hand, the guests were buying them off their heads.

"This time, we're ordering at least 300," says hotel spokeswoman Colleen Evans.

Hand, whose pins have become fashion items for powerful women in Washington (Madeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush among them) is producing everything from cuff links to scarves to ties to tiny collector's boxes in time for the big party. The real keeper is likely to be a tiny pin featuring a rhinestone elephant emblazoned with the letter R. It's the bargain of the ball at $45.

"The people who come to inaugurations are celebrating their candidate winning, or perhaps just the nation's president, and whether they're Democratic or Republican, they all want to go home with something patriotic and a reminder of their time here," Hand says. "We haven't seen too much of a change in taste between the two."

Given the Texas flavor of the galas, the definitive Republican inaugural party essential may be your very own honest-to-gosh Stetson. The iconic hat company, based in Garland, Tex., provides any number of the hats to President Bush, and it will bring about 3,000 of them to town for Bush fans at the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball at the Marriott Wardman Park.

You can go for the El Presidente model, fashioned from beaver and cashmere with a 14-karat gold buckle, at just $1,200. You could go down-market for the $600 El Patron, but, honestly: Do you want to be on the dance floor without the $5,000 Diamante, replete with gold buckle and hand-set diamonds?

"People still think of the Stetson as one of the great images of America, of cowboy hats and Roy Rogers and the West," says Stan Redding, company vice president. "And I'm sure when the president is from Crawford, Texas, we'll have customers at the inauguration who will want the best of the best."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company