The demand for tickets to inaugural events is so great that some VIPs are dispatching aides to the Presidental Inaugural Committee to make sure they get theirs, committee sources say. Other bigwigs are pressuring the committee to reclaim tickets previously sold to grass-roots supporters of President-elect Ronald Reagan so they can attend.
A committee executive said he "ran into three congressmen roaming the halls" at PIC headquarters at Fort McNair in Southwest Washington trying to get tickets for constituents. He said one governor called to find out how to get more ticket for Reagan loyalists in his state. But he denied that favoritism would play a part in who gets the precious pasteboards.
Another committee employe, irked at what he viewed as bigwigs throwing their weight around at the expense of loyal precinct workers, said Inaugural Committee cochairmen Robert K. Gray and Charles Z. Wick ordered 5,000 previously sold tickets pulled back Monday for their personal use, an action that required workers to "go through the computer printouts and systematically decide who would not get tickets."
Gray and Wick vehemently denied that report, with Wick threatening to "sue for slander" the person spreading the story.
A committee official acknowledged that Fred Biebel, executive director of the committee, "speeded up the system" for representatives of the nation's auto companies who "showed up on our doorstep" Monday.
"They weren't trying to get something for nothing," Gray said, "but the tickets which they had paid for had not arrived [in Detroit], and so Biebel hand-walked their requests through the process and gave them the tickets."
One committee employe, said the auto representatives had threatened to take the 500 cars their firms have lent to the committee if they didn't get their tickets immediately. A committee official called that report "hyperhole."
An official of Ford Motor Co., one of three major auto manufacturers sending executives to the inauguration, said that while PIC was "a high-pressure operation, there was no confrontation," and the committee had been "extremely helpful in taking care of our needs."
Most of the problems, according to Gray and Wick, are related, not to pressure from big wheels, but to an inability to process ticket requests fast enough because of computer foul-ups and that old bugaboo, the United States Postal Service. Many checks for tickets were late in arriving here because of the holiday mail rush, they said.
"A committee official acknowledged that "people are going to be turned away," but he said "that's not because we are elitist." Tickets that are being reserved for use of the cochairmen "are not going to 2,500 guys named Gray or Wick," the official said, "but to deserving people, named Warshawsky or whatever. But if a Cabinet member is coming -- and you know they all are -- and hasn't ordered tickets, you can't tell him there aren't any left."
The committee is making "every effort" to notify people who will not be getting the tickets they have ordered, the official said. Earlier, mailgrams were sent out, and in recent days, a phone bank has been employed, he said.
"But we have not assured anyone that just because they sent in a check they would automatically get tickets to all of the events they wanted to attend," he went on.
The biggest crunch is for the Frank Sinatra hosted gala Monday night at the Capital Centre. About 17,000 tickets were available, and they have been gone for some time. With those tickets selling for either $100 and $150 each, "We want to make sure everyone has a seat, so we're not going to jam people in," the official said.
With a total of nine inaugural balls scheduled, about 43,000 people can attend, and few who have sent in money for the dances will be turned away, he said.
For the most part, it will be a matter of someone who wanted to go to the gala, a ball and two receptions being able to go to some, but not all, of the requested activities, the official said.
Inaugural planners, he said, had been counting on two "dampening" conditions to hold ticket requests to a manageable number -- the ailing economy and high ticket prices. "At these prices, the inaugural events are not entertainment bargains. A good Vegas show is cheaper than the gala," he said.
But in what one official called "a good sign that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Reagan-Bush team," the committee has been swamped with ticket applications. Wick and Gray called it "a glorious problem."
It was Gray, a Washington public relations man, who said shortly after his appointment to the committee last November that once capacity is reached for the events, "even my own mother won't be able to get a ticket."