Demand tepid for tickets to history Standing room is free for Clinton inaugural

December 28, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Even if you're not politically connected, there is still a way to get a glimpse of the inaugural festivities next month from somewhere other than in front of your television set.

Tickets to Washington's many inaugural balls and the presidential gala range from $150 to $3,000 and often go to party stalwarts and big campaign contributors.

But thousands of free tickets to President Clinton's swearing-in are just a phone call away. Staffers in several Maryland congressional offices say they still have tickets left for the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony in front of the Capitol.

Some say demand seems to be down from four years ago, when the excitement of a new party taking control of the Oval Office for the first time since 1981 had people pouring in from Maryland.

"I don't think it's anything like it was in '92," said Cory Alexander, a legislative assistant for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat who ** represents part of Prince George's County and Southern Maryland. So far, Hoyer's constituents have requested between 75 and 100 tickets.

Staffers in other congressional offices, though, predict that as Marylanders finish up their Christmas vacations and the press focuses more attention on the inauguration, the pace of requests will quicken.

William C. Miller Jr., top aide to Maryland Rep. Constance A. Morella, says he expects things to pick up in the D.C. suburbs when Nordstrom begins its quadrennial advertisements as the best place to buy inaugural gowns.

"We're definitely not going to have any extras," said Miller, who added that Morella's office had received 50 to 100 requests so far. Morella, a Republican, represents most of Montgomery County.

Each member of the House will have 21 seats for the inauguration this year, primarily for the use of the representative, family and close friends. They will also have an additional 177 standing-room tickets that are usually divvied up on a first-come, first-served basis for constituents.

Senators receive 28 seats and 365 standing-room tickets.

Witness history

For many, attending an inauguration is a chance to witness history, even if it's from 200 yards away.

"It's just exciting," said Beatrice Chester, who lives in North Bethesda and has put in a ticket bid for herself and her 40-year-old son, Charles.

Chester, an attorney with the Department of Interior, attended the inaugurations of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Four years ago, Ron Summers happened to be visiting Washington during the inauguration and picked up a ticket from an obliging stranger on the street.

"Of course, I was in the peanut gallery, with I don't know how many tens of thousands of other folks on the Mall, but I got to see it," he said.

Well, not quite.

Summers stood behind a huge platform that holds television cameras. He watched most of the ceremony on a large video screen and listened to the proceedings on radios that others in the crowd had brought.

Still, "it was pretty neat," he said.

Summers, 37, a radiologist with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, liked it enough to ask for two tickets this year. One for himself and one for his wife, Nancy.

Because some constituents live within driving distance, senators and House members from Eastern states often get more requests for tickets than they can handle. So, they often turn to their friends from the West for extras.

Prospecting for tickets

Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, gets his fair share of such calls.

"They don't say straight out that 'Gee, nobody from Alaska visits,' but they drop subtle hints," said Chris Fluhr, Young's legislative director. But fellow congressmen might be better off looking elsewhere. When it comes to inaugurations, Alaskans "are just as interested as anybody else," Fluhr said. "For them, it is sometimes combined with a longer vacation here."

In his search for extra tickets, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois, is taking an approach akin to carpet bombing. Faced with 150 requests already and more expected, the Chicago Democrat sent out 200 letters this week to his colleagues asking for leftovers.

"With a name like Jesse Jackson Jr., not only are people who live in our district calling, but everyone is calling," said Jackson's chief of staff, Licia Green. "The days before the inauguration, you find people scrambling for tickets. We wanted to get our bid in early."

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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