State pols will flock to Monday’s inauguration

Washington - Numbers may be down from four years ago, but Connecticut residents will still flock to President Barack Obama's second inauguration Monday.

Washington loves to mix parties with politicking and an inauguration provides fertile ground for that.

The practice dates back to the first president. On May 7, 1789, one week after the inauguration of George Washington in New York City, sponsors held a ball in his honor.

But it was not until 1809, when Dolley Madison held the first inaugural ball for James Madison at the Capitol, that the tradition of the official ball began.

There are plenty of inaugural receptions and parties this year.

For instance Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state's congressional delegation will host a reception at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Capitol Hill on Sunday.

Elizabeth Larkin, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said the party is picking up Malloy's share of the tab.

The lawmakers are paying for the party with campaign funds and personal money.

But lobbyists are directly funding dozens of inaugural parties and receptions in return for access to administration officials and congressional lawmakers.

"The inauguration is an expo for the biggest money-in-politics players," said Sunlight Foundation Policy Director John Wonderlich.

Reversing a decision he made four years ago, Obama is allowing corporations and lobbying firms to donate without limits to the Presidential Inaugural Committee this year, hoping to raise $50 million for the event. Microsoft and AT&T are among the big-money donors.

Celebrations begin over the weekend and culminate Monday evening with two official balls and the last of the unofficial parties. There were a dozen official balls when Obama was sworn in four years ago. But the president whittled that down to two this year, saying he wanted to save money.

But there are plenty of unofficial balls and parties, including regional and state balls held by state societies that are usually sponsored by corporations and other special interests.

Connecticut residents attended a New England ball four years ago. But that's not happening this year.

Brian Mahar, president of the Connecticut State Society-- an organization of Connecticut residents in Washington -- said "it just didn't come together."

The Connecticut State Society considered forgoing tuxedos and ball gowns and hosting a much less extravagant party with its counterpart from Massachusetts.

"But then Sandy Hook happened," and the society turned its efforts toward helping Newtown, Mahar said.  "We're putting our eyes on four years from now."

Malloy arrived in Washington Friday to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and plans to address the Conference of Mayors Saturday.

He has one of the most coveted tickets in town -- for one of the official balls. The other official ball is reserved exclusively for members of the military and their families and will feature Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson and Marc Anthony.

The Connecticut Democratic Party is sending a busload of its members to the inauguration on a one-day trip that leaves Bloomfield at 11 p.m. Sunday.

Connecticut Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo won't be taking that bus though. She'll be arriving in Washington Saturday to attend a meeting of Italian-American legislators.

This will be the third inaugural for DiNardo, who also plans to attend an official ball, and maybe the parade, if it's not too cold. The parade for former President Reagan was cancelled in 1985 because of harsh weather.

"I was here four years ago and it was a great time," DiNardo said.

Obama will actually be sworn in officially on Sunday, out of public view, because that's the day mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

But inaugural ceremonies have traditionally not been held on Sundays, so the public ceremony on the west front of the U.S. Capitol will take place at noon on Monday.

"Demand for tickets to the inauguration was very high," said Nu Wexler, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal's communication director. "Each Senate office received 393 tickets, and we distributed ours to Connecticut constituents by a lottery."

House members received 177 tickets, which were also quickly snapped up.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will administer the oath of office. James Taylor, Beyoncé, and Kelly Clarkson will sing.

And Richard Blanco, who taught creative writing at Central Connecticut State University, is the inaugural poet.

After the swearing-in, the president has lunch with lawmakers in the Capitol. Then he joins the inaugural parade that will take him back to the White House.

Connecticut has one float in the parade. It's a 1916 Ford Model T ambulance painted "French infantry blue" that will be driven down Pennsylvania Avenue by George King III of North Franklin.

King said he was captivated by the  story of 1,200 donated ambulances by Americans and volunteer drivers who aided the wounded of World War I between 1914 and 1917, before the United States entered that war.

He decided to restore and rebuild one of those ambulances and completed his work on the "Ambulance 255 Project" in May.

The largest group of volunteer drivers in WWI came from New England, King said, many from Connecticut. Yale University alone was responsible for about 200 drivers.

"It is an amazing story of American volunteerism," King said.

This will be the second inaugural for Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

"I was a history student in college and it's very exciting to think that Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Reagan were all in the same spot [getting sworn in,]" Courtney said.

History aside, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., in town for the Conference of Mayors meeting, said he'll skip the inauguration.

"I attended four years ago and I'm glad I did," DeStefano said. "But you couldn't find a cab, get to your seat or enter a restaurant. This time I'll save the money and go home to watch it on TV."