As President Barack Obama’s second inauguration nears, demand for bus seats from Charlotte or hotel rooms near the capital seem unlikely to reach the level that accompanied the president’s first swearing in.
Several Charlotte-area groups heading to the Jan. 21 inauguration said seats remain available.
And few expect the ceremony will draw anywhere close to the record-breaking number that caravanned to Washington from across the nation in 2009.
“If there was one word I’d use to describe what will probably happen on Inauguration Day, it is ‘subdued,’ ” said David Goldfield, a history professor at UNC Charlotte. “I think the crowd will certainly be enthusiastic, and you’ll see a lot of applause and cheers … but if you compare that to the euphoria of January 2009, you’ll certainly see a difference. 2009 was just one long celebration.”
An estimated 1.8 million people gathered near the U.S. Capitol four years ago, making it the largest attended event in Washington, D.C., history.
By comparison, President George W. Bush drew about 300,000 to his first inauguration in 2001 and about 800,000 turned out for President Bill Clinton’s first swearing in.
D.C. officials are expecting 600,000 to 800,000 for Obama’s second ceremony.
Delores Reid-Smith of the Charlotte chapter of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee is organizing two buses to the event. The inauguration falls on the day the nation honors the civil rights leader. “By Dec. 31 in 2008, my buses were full,” she said. “I’ve been getting quite a few (inquiries) this time but not to the magnitude I did in 2008. I was turning people away.”
Reid-Smith said passes for the trip, which include tours of some Washington monuments and an overnight stay in Maryland, begin at $275. The group will leave Jan. 19 and return two days later.
Susan Woods is also organizing two buses to the inauguration. She’s the founder of the Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program , whose goal is to help young African-American boys stay in school before transitioning them to college or the workforce.
The program has filled one bus, Woods said, adding that she’s confident she’ll fill the second now that Christmas and New Year’s have wrapped up.
“I think people put us on the back burner,” Woods said.
She said the $150, 24-hour trip to the inauguration is open to anyone and will act as a fundraiser for the mentorship program, which serves Mecklenburg and several surrounding counties.
Rose Chauffeured Transportation will escort Woods’ group. Andy Thompson, vice president of Rose, said the company is sending five of its 14 motor coaches to Washington.
In 2009, when Rose Chauffeured was a newcomer in the motor coach business, it sent a single bus, Thompson said.
Rooms at the inn
According to news reports, hotel occupancy in Washington the night before Obama’s first inauguration was 98 percent with visitors paying about $600 a stay.
Now, half the rooms remain available in some hotels, a development that could lead to a drop in prices if business does not pick up before the ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, has received requests for about 1,500 total tickets, a spokesman said. According to reports, more than 5,000 people asked Watt’s office for at least one ticket in 2009.
Bettye Roundtree, 59, of Columbia, stood on the National Mall with some friends and family members four years ago.
Roundtree said it was wonderful to witness Obama’s first inauguration, but she won’t be able to make it this year.
“I think (2009) was the history-making moment for a lot of people,” she said. “I would have been excited to go this year, but finances got in the way.”
Turnout and enthusiasm for a president’s second inauguration rarely exceeds that of his first, said Goldfield, the history professor.
Perhaps the only time a president drew greater support at his second inauguration happened in March 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln took the oath a month before Union victory in the Civil War.
“I certainly don’t think Obama is going to pull a Lincoln,” Goldfield said.
‘Excited in a different way’
But that doesn’t mean the crowd won’t be enthusiastic.
In 2009, Columbia resident Brenda Rickards, 51, braved a wind chill in the teens to watch Obama get sworn in.
She’ll join Reid-Smith’s group this month, albeit wrapped in a new winter coat.
“If I’m willing to brave that cold again, I have to be excited,” Rickards said.
Joining the group will be Barbara Lowery, 51, of Charlotte. Lowery was in the Washington area in 2009 but couldn’t make it to the inauguration. She vowed not to miss it this time and even booked a spot on the bus before Obama won the election.
“I literally think about it all day, every day,” said Lowery of the trip. “I’ve been packing and repacking since October. I’ve changed my bags several times.”
Lowery is one of several people going who volunteered for the Democratic National Convention or the Obama campaign.
Charlotte resident Candace Taylor, 35, was a staff member for the campaign and has organized a bus of mostly campaign volunteers to travel to Washington. She also attended the president’s first inauguration, standing among the crowd on the National Mall.
“People are excited in a different way,” Taylor said. “The first time it was a novel experience, and I think people came to say, ‘I was there.’ Now, people are invested in the campaign and the president.”