INAUGURATION 2013: A celebration scaled down, but still grand

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

Absent the historic nature of electing the nation’s first black president and amid a slow economic recovery, expectations and planning for President Barack Obama’s 2013 inaugural aren’t near the historic levels of 2009.

But with stars such as Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder lined up to perform, plenty of celebrations on tap, and tickets being auctioned off at 50 times their value, public interest remains high and planners are prepared to deliver a major celebration.

Four years ago, a record-breaking 1.8 million people lined the mall for Obama's swearing in and attended other inaugural events in Washington. This year, expectations are lower-- some D.C. officials place crowd estimates at 600,000-800,000—but still promise a heavy influx of visitors to witness the swearing-in, parade, the inaugural balls and a wealth of unofficial parties, events and festivities in around the city.

The official group behind the inauguration, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), say that overall their scope has decreased in comparison to 2009.

“In keeping with the precedent set by previous second inaugurals and in recognition of the ongoing economic recovery, this Inauguration will be smaller in scale than the historic ceremony four years ago," PIC spokeswoman Aoife McCarthy told Yahoo News in a statement. "We expect the 57th Inaugural to capture the same excitement that we saw throughout this campaign and to reflect the values that the President will continue to bring to his second term."

The ten inaugural balls the president and First Lady attended in 2009 have been condensed to two. There is no inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Planners are organizing fewer official events overall.

But the scope remains grand.

The two official inaugural balls that remain on the schedule will be held in the entire Washington Convention Center, which can host up to 42,000 attendees. “The Inaugural Ball will use every Hall in the Convention Center, and together with the Commander-in-Chief's Ball, the same space where six Inaugural balls were held in 2009 will be used,” the PIC announced Jan. 11.

And there is no shortage of stars lined up for those and other events. Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor are slated to perform at the swearing-in. Other A-List celebrities like Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Usher and Brad Paisley are among the many celebrities scheduled to perform at the inaugural balls.

Unofficial parties, galas, luncheons and events spanning the weekend and the D.C. metro area have drawn a slew of additional stars, from Eva Longoria and George Lopez at the Latino Concert, and John Legend at the party and many others.

The PIC offered a select number of inaugural tickets to official events to the public, which sold out even before organizers had planned to have them go on sale after Ticketmaster mistakenly emailed purchasing information hours too early.

Some of those public tickets are now selling online for 50 times the purchase price, according to eBay. One bid last week reached $3,000 for two inaugural ball tickets-- face value $120.

But that seller, who declined to be identified because they had received negative feedback for selling inaugural tickets, told Yahoo News that business could be a lot better. "Any retail stores I deal with-- they're being very conservative," about their purchasing, the seller said, noting that they have had difficulty offloading Obama playing cards and other items-- something that never happened in 2009.

"Back then, if you had [anything] with Barack Obama's face on it, it would sell."

When asked to judge the difference in spending and interest levels between 2013 and 2009, the seller replied, "there's no comparison."

As to be expected, given the less historic nature of this year's event, there's also somewhat less interest from the media, according to senate press gallery staff, who credential a portion of the media for inaugural activities. Staff said they notice fewer requests this year than in 2009. But the volume of requests "hasn’t dropped off as much as I thought it would,” Joe Keenan, Senate press gallery director told Yahoo News.

Organizers, keenly aware of the still-limping economy, continue to emphasize their "scaled-down" plans for this year's celebration.

Even the inaugural theme is a little less celebratory than it was last time.

Four years ago, “A New Birth of Freedom”-- words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – was chosen as the theme to highlight the historic nature of Obama's inauguration as well as commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

This year, it’s “Faith in America’s Future.”

"There’s no doubt that we’re going through tough times now, but that’s why we’ve chosen ‘Faith in America’s Future’ as this year’s theme," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said in a statement to Yahoo News. "150 years ago, our nation came together to finish the Capitol Dome, in the midst of a Civil War that threatened to tear us apart. Americans have come together and overcome obstacles in the past – by looking back at how far we’ve come, we’ll find faith in our future moving forward."

In Jan. 2009 when Obama took office, the U.S was experiencing the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. Employers that month slashed 818,000 jobs-- the largest cut in six decades. It was one of the worst months of the recession thus far and from there, unemployment climbed.

Obama's swearing-in represented a new start and fresh hope for many Americans, even as economists warned the nation's economic situation was dire.

But the rush of good feeling was short lived. Just days later, Obama launched a push for an $800 billion dollar economic stimulus package that Republicans staunchly opposed -- laying the groundwork for the stark partisan divide that defined much of Obama's first term.

As Obama prepares to take the oath of office a second time, the unemployment rate now stands at 7.8 percent and jobs have been added to the economy as they have every month since 2010. Even as the administration has been quick to highlight that progress, many Americans have been touched by the recession and will be looking for assurances from Obama on the economy.

Economic pressure has even affected plans for the inauguration itself.

One major change for organizers this year is that the inaugural committee chose to accept corporate donations, which the committee said was out of necessity after the "most expensive presidential campaign in history."

“Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fundraising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history," McCarthy of the Presidential Inaugural Committee said, adding that donations from lobbyists or PACs will not be accepted.

But the decision to accept corporate donations and only provide the public with donors' first and last names has drawn ire from government watchdog and transparency groups the Sunlight Foundation and OpenSecrets, which launched their own donor page compiling all information publicly available about the donors listed.

The organizations note that in 2009, the inaugural committee released names of donors, their employers, their city and state and donation amount. Donations were also capped at $50,000.

The PIC in 2009 set a goal of raising $45 million for the official inaugural events covered by the committee. They were able to exceed that, raising more than $53 million.

Committee staff and others involved in the planning won't publicly estimate this year's price tag.