By train, car or foot, local officials made their way to inaugural festivities

political notebook

January 25, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

The emotion and size of the crowd at Tuesday's presidential inaugural in Washington inspired and awed several prominent Howard County Democrats who attended.

But getting there and back home presented more practical concerns.

MARC commuter trains, Metro subway cars, private autos and a county car and police driver were the different modes used by four leaders to get to Washington's Union Station on Tuesday, the start of their individual and often very personal strolls to the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president.

County Executive Ken Ulman and his wife, Jaki, got the police ride, which simplified their journey, especially because the officer waited to take them home. Ulman considers his use of executive protection a security issue, he has said, and the driver had a Secret Service pass to be at Union Station.

"We drove right up," Ulman said, adding that traffic was extremely light.

Like most others, the Ulmans walked from the train station, and ended up packed tightly in a standing-room-only section of the National Mall.

"We were shoved in with people from all over the country," he said. "Everyone was very nice and patient."

Their vantage point wasn't the best, though.

"I could see the podium, but it was hard to see much detail there," he said.

Ulman, a Democrat who backed Obama in the primary, said Obama's visit to Baltimore on Saturday offered a much better experience since he and his wife were able to chat briefly with the Obamas.

County Council member Courtney Watson and her son Patrick, 15, had no live vantage point, it turned out. They drove in easily the night before in their family vehicle, slept at a relative's house and got a ride downtown Tuesday morning. They walked to their blue entry gate without a hitch.

But the gate never opened. They ended up watching the ceremony on TV at a nearby restaurant, but Watson said the day was memorable still.

"There were so many rich experiences," said the Ellicott City Democrat.

There were so many people, even the elderly walking with canes, she said, and no traffic on Washington's normally busy streets.

"When you're standing shoulder-to-shoulder for 2 1/2 hours, you meet all sorts of people," she said.

In the restaurant, where about 10 other people from the crowd had gathered, the mood was reverent, she said.

"You could hear a pin drop throughout the whole [televised ceremony]," she said. "Just the sense of being there was very incredible."

The Watsons walked 27 blocks back to their car and drove home. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies later issued a formal apology via e-mail to several thousand ticket-holders who were crowded out.

David Marker, one of three co-chairs of the Obama campaign in Howard, said he and his wife, Mary, made the trip twice Tuesday - once for the inauguration and later for the Mid-Atlantic Ball.

The Markers rose at 4 a.m. and went downtown via the Metro from the Silver Spring station. They were in their area on the Mall by 8:15 a.m., he said, and even had space to lie down on a blanket and rest. Just walking out of a dark Third Street tunnel into the coming dawn was inspiring, he said.

"Everybody was feeling so wonderful," he said.

They got home by 2:30 p.m., though the trains were jammed. Later, they drove to the Greenbelt Metro and hopped a train back to Union Station for the ball, again without problems.

The Obama's showed up about 11:30 p.m, he said.

"All the songs kind of fit with Obama's themes," Marker said, marveling at the music that ranged from Motown to Wyclef Jean to The Dead.

Dels. Elizabeth Bobo and Guy Guzzone, both Democrats who served as members of the Electoral College that cast the actual presidential vote, made it to their assigned seats close to the front of the huge crowd with their spouses, they said.

Bobo and her husband, Lloyd Knowles, took the MARC train into Union Station and walked to the Mall.

"I didn't see anyone push or be nasty or shove or be impatient in my entire day," Bobo said. "I don't know how anyone could have done it without being deeply moved."

Guzzone said he and his wife, Pam, who also traveled by MARC train, took extra measures to prepare for the cold.

"I actually went out and bought all new long underwear, boots and chemical hand warmers and toe warmers," he said. "I was comfortable enough to enjoy it."

Like Bobo, Knowles and thousands of others, the Guzzones walked through the Third Street tunnel from Union Station, a long trek followed by an hourlong wait at a gate that did open, allowing them to find their seats by 9 a.m. Nearby sat actress Halle Berry, Linda Carter (of Wonder Woman fame) and Tom Hanks, Guzzone said.

"It was very emotional. I got misty-eyed several times," he said. "It was the whole experience of being with so many people with so much enthusiasm and the belief that the world was going to be a better place."

Campaign finances

Campaign finance reports were due Wednesday, providing the annual glimpse into coffers of local elected officials.

Ulman reported raising $269,964 in the past year and has $303,609 on hand. That's less than what was spent by either candidate for county executive in the 2006 campaign, but more than James N. Robey spent for either of his campaigns in 1998 and 2002. The next state and county elections are next year.

Watson, whose information was first among county officials to appear on the state election board's Web site, reported last week that she raised $20,365 last year and has $39,725 on hand.

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