* Inauguration crowd likely to be less than half 2009 total
* Vacancies at luxury hotels, restaurants
* White House slashes number of official black-tie balls
WASHINGTON, Dec 26 (Reuters) - It is one of those occasions
that is quintessential Washington: the inauguration of a
president, a multi-day festival of patriotism, politics,
optimism and self-congratulation.
All of that will be on display on Jan. 21, when President
Barack Obama is publicly sworn in for his second four-year term.
But this inauguration will be far less grand than Obama's first
in 2009, when a record 1.8 million visitors flooded the city to
see the nation's first black president take office.
This time the celebration is likely to attract no more than
800,000 or so guests, city officials estimate. As a result, some
luxury hotel rooms and coveted tables at high-end restaurants
are still available, less than a month before the inauguration.
The swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with its sweeping views
of the National Mall, initially required inauguration guests to
make reservations for four nights. Now it has relaxed that
requirement to three nights to try to fill its rooms.
But the "inauguration markup" still applies: The Mandarin's
least expensive room, normally available for $295 a night,
starts at $1,195 a night during the long inauguration weekend.
Even so, the demand for hotel and restaurant reservations
for this inauguration pales compared with the rush that followed
Obama's first election.
Back then, the scramble for accommodation was so desperate
that homeowners and renters in Washington and its Maryland and
Virginia suburbs leased their homes for the inauguration,
creating a vast secondary market in housing that week.
Hundreds of those homeowners - including former Tennessee
senator and actor and Fred Thompson, who offered to rent out his
condominium for five days for $30,000 - sought to profit from
the festivities and leave town to avoid the crowds.
Today the website Craigslist shows only a few dozen ads
offering housing for the inauguration.
"They swarmed to the market last time," said real estate
agent Hill Slowinski, who deals in luxury properties. "We are
not seeing the same level of interest" this year.
The story is similar at the Palm restaurant, which offers a
$54 rib-eye steak and is a favorite of Democratic power brokers.
Some tables are still free for Sunday night, Jan. 20, the
evening before the ceremony.
Looking over the reservations for that night, Tommy Jacomo,
who has run the restaurant for four decades, said: "It's
mediocre. Nothing out of the ordinary."
Jacomo said that for many of Obama's supporters, the 2009
inaugural celebration was a history-making one that can't be
"The second time, it's always not that big," he said.
That has been the case in recent second-term inaugurations,
particularly Republican Ronald Reagan's in 1985. Thanks to
brutally cold weather, that became a mostly-indoor affair in
which Reagan took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural
address in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda rather than outside the
For Obama's second inauguration, the thrill might be
lessened further by the fact that he will take the official oath
of office from Chief Justice John Roberts in a closed ceremony
the day before the public festivities - on Jan. 20, as required
Because that day falls on a Sunday, the public events - the
swearing-in outside the Capitol, Obama's inaugural address, the
parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White
House, and the inaugural balls - will be held a day later.
Hans Bruland, the general manager of the Hay-Adams Hotel who
is working his fifth inauguration, said the lack of excitement
for a president's second time around should be expected.
He said the ongoing negotiations between the White House and
Congress over looming tax increases and budget cuts - and the
threat of economic calamity if some sort of deal isn't reached -
are clouding the mood in Washington and could be affecting the
plans of some potential celebrants.
Obama's first inauguration took place as a worldwide
financial crisis was unfolding, but his history-making ascent to
the White House seemed to trump such concerns, at least for a
"Oftentimes, we don't remember what normal feels like,"
Bruland said. "People tend to panic a little."
FEWER INAUGURAL BALLS
Such economic jitters are one reason Obama's second
inauguration will feature just two official balls, rather than
the 10 that were held in 2009.
Both will be at the Washington Convention Center on Jan. 21.
One ball will be for the public and guests, the other primarily
for military families and veterans.
There will be a few unofficial balls held by various groups,
but this will be the fewest number of official inaugural balls
by any president since Dwight Eisenhower's first term in 1953 -
a reflection of Obama's effort to keep the celebration low-key
at a time when many Americans are struggling financially.
For all that relative austerity, there will be plenty of
opportunities for big-spending Obama supporters to wrap
themselves in luxury.
For $60,000, guests can stay four nights in the Mandarin
Oriental's presidential suite, with 24-hour butler service and a
private dining room.
A champagne cork's flight from the White House, the
Hay-Adams is renting its largest suite for $7,900 a night.
Before the 2009 inauguration, Obama and his family occupied an
entire wing of the hotel before he was able to move into his new
digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
One early indication that there will be fewer visitors
filling such expensive beds - and contributing to the
festivities - was the president's decision to widen the search
for funds for his second inauguration.
In 2009, Team Obama raised a record $53 million for his
inauguration, without donations from corporations, lobbyists,
and political action committees as part of a "commitment to
change business as usual in Washington."
This time, Obama supporters have welcomed donations from
such groups. A spokesperson for the presidential inauguration
committee, which manages the effort, declined to comment on the
pace of fundraising so far.
In 2009, the maximum donation for individuals accepted by
the committee was $50,000. This year, Obama's fundraising
committee is encouraging gifts of $250,000 from individuals.
That kind of generosity will earn givers access to VIP
receptions, reserved seats for the inaugural parade and other
THE FIRE STILL BURNS
There is one group that appears to be fired up and ready to
go to Washington: his former campaign workers.
One volunteer, Catherine Lyons, a phone bank coordinator in
Emeryville, California, said she was so excited that she bought
plane tickets for Washington before Obama's re-election was
On the morning of Nov. 6, Election Day, Lyons went online
and bought a seat for a cross-country flight.
"It was a little risky," Lyons, 25, said. "Bravery or a
little stupidity, however you want to see it."
Also heading to Washington will be Shomari Figures, 27, a
lawyer who was a field organizer for Obama's campaign in Akron,
"The excitement," Figures said, "is still there."