Aloha State Moves to the A-List

The planners for Hawaii's Inaugural Ball conducted a walk-through at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Monday as they made preparations for for an event that sold out all 750 tickets within days of native son Barack Obama's presidential victory.Video by David Nakamura/The Washington Post
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Forget the cowboy hat. Throw on a lei.

The Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball -- the first one ever -- is suddenly the hottest ticket in town, replacing the Texas Black Tie and Boots ball that reigned for the past two inaugurations.

And there are no more tickets. The Jan. 20 ball was sold out by 8 a.m. Friday.

"It's amazing how an election outcome can change everything," said Micah Kohono Mossman, ball chairman. "Now, I'm one of the most hated people because everyone is upset that I can't get them tickets."

The sellout represents a shift in Washington's A-list inaugural party scene. Texas had enjoyed that status as the adopted home state of President George W. Bush. Now, it's all about Hawaii, the birthplace of President-elect Barack Obama.

The Illinois State Society, the country's oldest, is also seeing a run on tickets. Obama is a longtime resident and represents the state in the Senate.

The Hawaii State Society is new to this and may not have been prepared for all the hoopla. When society members began planning earlier this year, they went with what they could afford: a $250,000 affair for 750 people at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Southwest Washington, a marked difference from Texas, where everything is bigger.

With all due respect to Texas, which has presold 6,000 tickets for its ball to state society members, Mossman said, "Here, it's ohana, it's family."

The society isn't even sure the native son will make an appearance. The group is trying to get designated as an official ball by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "Our fingers are crossed that even if we don't get that sanction, he'll still come by," Mossman said.

Still, ohana is now extending to people who are hoping they will get a glimpse of Obama and to scalpers who are banking on it.

The 750 tickets were priced at $200. Some are selling online for $1,200 to $2,000.

Tom Penland, a society member in charge of tickets, said he has received about 3,000 requests for the event that will feature Asian-Pacific cuisine, an open bar and entertainment from six acts, including five flying in from Hawaii.

Before Election Day, the society had raised $55,000 for the ball. By Thursday, it had collected $225,000. A sponsor, of course, gets tickets. So the society also is not accepting any more sponsors.

"I never thought I would be in a position where I would turn away someone who wanted to give me $25,000," said Mossman, a 26-year-old consultant who works for Booz Allen Hamilton.

Since they can't squeeze any more people into the Mandarin, Mossman and Penland met yesterday with hotel staff to make the experience larger. Plans now include a live feed from the party by a major network and live streaming from a simultaneous ball in Hawaii. Ideas for decorations have gone from native Hawaiian floral arrangements to volcanoes and a waterfall.

"We know how to party," said Penland, 61, a retired federal employee who has thrown a ukulele party at his Falls Church home every Wednesday for the past seven years.

Although Mossman and Penland would like to keep the party intimate, it may not be up to them four years from now.

Sponsors are hot for Hawaii. "Now, they're asking how we start sponsoring four years from now," Mossman said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company