Obama events costly to states

$11 million price put on Md.'s role in inaugural activities

January 14, 2009|By Paul West | Paul West,paul.west@baltsun.com

Washington - Next week's presidential inauguration of Barack Obama is expected to cost the state of Maryland at least $11 million, state officials said yesterday.

That figure includes costs related to Obama's train trip through Maryland and his planned stop in Baltimore on Saturday. The inauguration committee has yet to release details of that event, but local officials say they are planning for an afternoon speech in front of the War Memorial building across from City Hall in downtown Baltimore.

Excitement about the president-elect's stop here and for the inauguration is building in the region - Harford County residents, for example, are scouting locations to wave at the train as it goes by - but so are the complexity and expense of planning for such major events. City officials estimate that as many as 150,000 people could turn out for Obama's Baltimore stop.

All told, the inauguration is costing Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia some $75 million, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty told reporters at a news conference yesterday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said he has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada about getting Congress to reimburse the cash-short state government. Members of the Maryland congressional delegation, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, both Democrats, are also involved in seeking federal reimbursement, he said.

O'Malley, who joined Fenty and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to brief reporters about regional inauguration planning, said Congress was unlikely to provide the money before the Jan. 20 event.

But O'Malley said that even some congressional leaders were surprised that federal money had not been set aside to help state and local governments with the costs. He noted that Congress provided funds for similar expenses in connection with last summer's national political conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn.

"I think all of us were somewhat surprised that Congress had not made appropriations to cover the cost of the inauguration," O'Malley said. "Having said that, the public safety responsibility has to be fulfilled, as does the transportation responsibility, so we're going to do it. And we have faith in our new Congress [to reimburse Maryland] for this big expense."

O'Malley said anyone who wants to attend inaugural events should do some research in the newspaper and on the Internet before setting out for Washington Tuesday.

"This is not like throwing the family in the van and heading down for a visit to the Air and Space Museum," O'Malley said. "You need to have a plan."

The same goes for Saturday's events. The city's transportation department said yesterday that it will soon announce a series of street closures associated with the Obama appearance, and Maryland Stadium Authority spokeswoman Jan Hardesty said drivers will be encouraged to park at the stadium complex south of downtown and take shuttle buses to War Memorial Plaza.

She said shuttles will begin running at 11 a.m. in advance of an event that is expected to take place in the late afternoon, tentatively 4 p.m.

Harford County officials are organizing groups to wave at the president-elect and his family as the train passes through the region. Harford Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti will join Obama supporters behind Havre de Grace Middle School, and other groups plan to meet at the MARC stations in Aberdeen and Edgewood, where Councilman Dion F. Guthrie plans a celebration.

As for the inauguration itself, O'Malley joked that his transportation plans are to "come here with police." The governor referred to the "huge logistical challenges" of witnessing Inaugural Day events, which are expected to draw more than one million people. Critics of the unprecedented road and bridge closures for the inauguration are predicting that security measures will deter many of those who initially planned to attend.

Kaine, whose state's residents have been particularly inconvenienced by plans to close bridges between Northern Virginia and Washington, suggested that those who were eager to come could plan to drive into the District just before the bridges are blocked at 3 a.m. on Tuesday.

Fenty, the Washington mayor, announced a new logistical hurdle for those attending the inauguration. He said yesterday that it would be impossible for spectators to witness the swearing-in and then attend the parade.

"You will not be able to go to both," Fenty said, explaining that the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House would fill up by 10 a.m.

The swearing-in ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. The parade, expected to attract a crowd of about 300,000-350,000 people, starts at 2:30 p.m.

Sun reporters Justin Fenton, Mary Gail Hare,Liz F. Kay and Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

IN BRIEF

* Details of President-elect Barack Obama's Saturday visit to Baltimore have not been finalized, but local officials are planning for an afternoon event at War Memorial Plaza.

* The Maryland Stadium Authority is planning shuttle service from the Camden Yards complex to the event near City Hall.

* Transportation and security for that event and Tuesday's inaugural are expected to cost Maryland $11 million or more.

* Officials in Maryland, Virginia and Washington are seeking reimbursement from the federal government.

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