ISO the Hottest Ticket in Town

The senator overseeing Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony says she's writing to Internet sites asking them not to sell scalped inauguration tickets. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, wants to make it a crime of selling tickets to the historic event. Video by AP
By Avis Thomas-Lester and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Staggering under what Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton termed "unprecedented" demand for tickets to attend the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama, some members of Congress have suspended taking requests, and others are talking about holding lotteries for the chance to witness history.

Some House members, who typically get several hundred tickets to distribute, have received more than 4,000 requests. The office of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin Jr. (D-Md.) said it had fielded 40,000 requests as of Monday. Meanwhile, Web sites are advertising tickets to the Jan. 20 event, even though no tickets have been distributed and the process is controlled by members of Congress and the yet-to-be-named Presidential Inauguration Committee.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, suggested that people think carefully before traveling to Washington, warning that hotel space is limited and temperatures on Inauguration Day could be "very cold." Norton (D-D.C.) is urging Obama's staff to consider adding inaugural events at venues away from the Mall to give more people a chance to join the celebrations honoring the Democrat from Illinois.

About 240,000 tickets have been printed for the swearing-in, according to the congressional committee. Those tickets give people a spot to watch the event, but the public can come to the Mall to join the scene for free, albeit from a distance. The inaugural parade typically has standing-room space along the route, free to the public.

Cardin's spokeswoman, Sue Walitsky, said the office probably will distribute inauguration tickets through "some sort of drawing." Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has the same idea.

"People should know that their odds in this lottery will be like their odds in Las Vegas," quipped Van Hollen, who said his office received fewer than 100 requests for George W. Bush's second inauguration.

Inaugural officials are warning the public about tickets promised on Internet sites. No ticket outlet or Web site has swearing-in tickets to sell, officials said. The tickets are being held in a secure location and will not be made available until about a week before the inauguration, according to the congressional committee.

"Any Web site or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth," said committee staff director Howard Gantman.

Norton's office stopped taking requests Friday. "We stopped counting at 3,000," she said. "No member of Congress wants to put herself on a 'do not call' list, but my constituents have forced me to ask them to wait while I ask for more information."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on his Web site Saturday that names were no longer being taken but decided this week to take the information from people in case they want news about related events.

Spokesmen for Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) and Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said they also have been inundated. Both offices said they expect to receive fewer than 500 tickets and have not decided how they will be distributed.

Virginians also have been bombarding Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), a close friend of Obama's and one of his earliest supporters, with requests for tickets.

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