Reagan throws a party
At the corner of Second and T Streets, SW, in one of the scruffiest sections of Washinton, sits Tempo B, the musically named World War II barracks that will serve as the headquarters of the 1981 presidential inauguration.
It will be the costliest in history ($7 million), outstripping the previous record, set by the second Nixon inaugural ($4 million), and more than doubling the cost of President Carter's ($3 million). The Republican Party spokesmen for the inaugural blame Carter inflation for the high cost of partying.
"We have to do it with Carter dollars," says Robert Gray, the presidential inaugural co-chairman, who adds, "One thing is graphically clear, that the cost is literally doubled, and the transportation costs are 60 percent more than last time. . . . The only things that haven't gone up are the [souvenir] license plates, made by men in reformatory, not inflation prone."
Mr. Gray, a member of the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton in Washington, operates out of large, gold-carpeted office in Tempo B, the forever temporary buildings just outside the United States Army's red brick enclave known as Fort McNair. The building is also known as the "barbecue pit" to some of its temporary inhabitants because of the huge, blackened brick barbecue chimneys that stand just beyond the back door like some bizarre military monument.
The Tempo buildings, scheduled to be leveled over 30 years ago, totter on through the decades as quick, cheap space for sudden paramilitary operations like inaugurations. They are two- and three-story-high wooden structures, sheathed in tan siding, devoid of any architectural stamp. The rest of Fort McNair has turned its back on them -- they are outside the high red brick wall that surrounds the fort and its handsome campus overlooking the Potomac, including a series of rose brick riverside mansions with white pillars where colonels' and generals' families live.
The military presence will be felt in this inaugural, as in others; part of the whole shebang is the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee (AFIC), which represents the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, and maps out the inaugural parade as carefully as the Battle of the Marne. Over 8,000 members of the military will be involved as the presidential escort, marchers, military police, security cordons, snow removal squads, and a transportation cadre of 300 drivers to taxi visiting dignitaries, governors, etc., to inaugural functions. In addition, over 8,000 members of the press including cameramen, soundmen, etc. , have been given credentials by the inaugural committee.
The AFIC, housed in Tempo B, has assembled a show-and-tell series of illuminated slides full of diagrams and flow charts to illustrate the complexities of the inaugural campaign. "It's like a battle plan," admits Col. James Revels, chairman of the public affairs subcommittee of the AFIC. "We have a staging area, an assemble area, a dispersal area. It's a mammoth movement."
Part of his committee's function, Colonel Revels explains, will be to document the inaugural parade with 16-mm movie film and still pictures. There will be 93 military photographers at work shooting $10,000 worth of film. In addition, 360 two-way radios have been commandeered, along with 75 "dedicated" telephone lines, 32 warming tents, and two aid stations. Although Mr. Gray at the inaugural committee had envisioned "a sea of American flags coming down the avenue," the military pointed out that countless flags whipping stiffly in the wind could cause injury to those marching behind them, and the plan was abandoned.
Earlier, President-elect Reagan had said he wanted no military weapons in the parade. Gray had explained that "it would seem out of place to have tanks or missile-launchers in the parade, and the governor [Reagan] believes the same is true about sidearms.We are a patriotic nation, not a militaristic one."
Later, at a press conference, however, Gray said that some "guns and flags will be carried." AFIC records indicate that neither tanks nor missiles have ever been used in inaugural parades, the only exception being the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, when a PT boat and tank were part of the parade.
The 1981 parade is expected to be pared to one hour, for airing on the networks, like a TV production number, instead of marching or shuffling along for over three hours (Carter time) or up to seven hours, as earlier inaugural parades have. That appears to be in line with the show-biz inaugural this is shaping up to be, with a series of over 132 satellite-beamed TV inaugural balls in major cities across the country, and an inaugural gala entertainment for 19, 000 people hosted by Frank Sinatra at Capitol Center.
Negotiations with the networks are under way for televising this star-studded event. Four years ago, the Carter people put together a smaller gala at the Kennedy Center, with a variety of talent ranging from the poet James Dickey to Linda Ronstadt, the Alvin Ailey dancers, and Nichols and May. CBS, which broadcast the gala, paid $1.2 million to the inaugural committee that year for the program.
This time, the Republicans are rolling out Johnny Carson as master of ceremonies, along with such stars as Charlton Heston, Dean Martin, the Osmonds, Debby boone, Grace Bumbry, Stevie Wonder, and Gen. Omar Bradley "doing a moving vignett with Jimmy Stewart." They would like to cast in all that television talent to help defray inaugural expenses, and are hoping that the networks will offer considerably more than the previous gala payment.
Those living outside the Washington area may be unaware of what knotty ligistics problems are raised by having a gala at Capitol Center, the vast entertainment amphitheater in not-so-nearby Largo, Md. Those of us who have traipsed out there to hear rock concerts know that even in clear midsummer weather it's a time-consuming hassle to get there from Washington and that the massive parking area often means a massive traffic jam. All those visiting out-of-towners, some without cars, some trying to find it for the first time, may have an entertaining time just getting there.
Mr. Gray, when asked about that, nods and admits that "it is a logistic problem. We have requisitioned transportation. . . . At the close [of the entertainment] we will have to say, 'All those from Sections A to C go to their buses first. . . .' Yes, we are hoping to rent the Metro [subway] for the night. The cost? About $300,000."
Here in Washington, where gossip is dished up like caviar, the rumor is that gala chairman Frank Sinatra chose Capitol Center out of pique, not wishing to host anything in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts because of a long-ago falling out with President kennedy. Inaugural spokesmen deny that. But rumors like that persist over the curious decision to schlep 19,000 people (paying $50 to $150 each, by invitation only) 45 minutes out of town to what the less charitable would call "the boonies."
Other functions, to use the official language, will take place at Kennedy Center without the Sinatra imprimatur: three simultaneous musical celebrations, one symphonic (with the National Symphony), one of popular music (show tunes, etc.), and one "youth concert" (presumably rock-oriented, although there is no official confirmation of that yet).
At this writing, the youth people will have to forgo a glimpse of the new president at their innaugural ball. He will appear before 40,000 people at the Smithsonian, American History Museum, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Shoreham Americana, The Washington Sheraton, and one ballroom at the Washington Hilton. But he will not disco at the "youth gala ball," tickets at $25 a head, in another ballroom at the same Hilton. The nonyouth balls are being pared away this year to a maximum of 40,000 people, causing anguished cries from Capitol Hill about there not being room enough for all those VIPs who expect to be there, as they have in years past.
The walls of Tempo B where all this is being plotted have been spruced up for the inaugural invasion. They are still painted institutional style, one color at the top and another at the bottom, but in a burst of cheerfulness it is not light khaki and dark khaki but peaches and cream. Plastering every visible wall are dozens of dark blue Reagan-Bush "The time is now" posters, which have a rather "Big-Brother-is-watching you" effect en masse.
Nearly 3,000 people are bundled together working on the inaugural in Tempo B -- 500 of them paid or lent by business organizations; the 2,500 others, volunteers. The satellite ball office, for instance, appears to be staffed by chic young Junior Leaguers. Security is tight, because the inaugural headquarters are in a high-crime area; staff members are advised to wait inside the building at night until the moment the inaugural shuttle arrives out front to connect with the nearest Metro stop. There are no restaurants or taxis are shops in the immediate area, inaugural workers complain. But food at the Tempo cafeteria is cheap and varied. And a can of soda from the hall machines is just 10 cents.
Money is an important factor in this inaugural, which co-chairman Charles Wick, a Los Angeles lawyer and financier, estimates in a Monitor interview at "close to $7 million," more than the 4, 5, or even 6 million figure which had been reported earlier in the press. "Whatever is spent will be a function of what is the current cost for tasteful, nonlavish events," he says.
The inaugural committee is very sensitive to questions about how this inaugural compares with the last, particularly in terms of costliness. The Carter inaugural in 1977 came in at about $3 million, a million less than the $4 million spent four years before that for Nixon's second inaugural. The Carter people, echoing their candidate's populist theme, dubbed it a "people's inaugural," called the traditional balls "parties" instead, said "Y'all come," and opened up the parties to great crowds of people, even at such unlikely places as the white marble elephant known as Union Stalion, the train depot here.
There were grits, peanuts, and rebel yells, free inaugural porgrams, folk dances, concerts, and film festivals. President Carter was sworn in wearing a business suit; afterward, he walked hand in hand down Pennsylvania Avenue with his family to the roar of the surprised crowd. He and his staff spoke of a more austere approach to governing, laying aside the trappings of the "imperial presidency," frowned on official limos and the playing of "Hail to the Chief." He turned down the thermostat in the White House and wore cardigan sweaters.
"If he's austere, what are we, plush? No, that's not it at all," one inaugural staff member bristles. "Each president has his own ideas. In his campaign speeches President-elect Reagan was much more concerned with fiscal responsibility and a healthy economy." That, the spokesman suggests, is real austerity. Since not a cent of the taxpayers' money is supposed to be spent on the inaugural, committee members say they're adamant about maintaining its "solvency."
One of the solutions to solvency is to sell as many mementos, souvenirs, trinkets, bits of memorabilia, and, of course, TV rights as possible. A section of Tempo B is therefore adrift with pricey possibilities: the inaugural umbrella , for instance, in maroon or green, printed with the team brand of intertwined initials, "RB"; or the crystal glasses embossed with a double inaugural eagle; or the invitational plaque, suitable for framing, a special favorite of members of Congress; and inaugural license plates in red, white, and blue.
A staff member says, "I'd like to see us come with $1 million from these sales, but in order to do that we have to sell $2 to $2.5 million worth." That includes the once-free inaugural program, this year at $2 a throw, plus items in several categories ranging from the less-expensive ($10-50) items like women's scarves, men's tie clips, tote bags, cuff links, etc., up to limited-edition numbers that could go as high as $2,500. There is some talk of Boehm birds, Steuben glass memorabilia, and inaugural sculpture -- reproductions of perhaps a few of RonalD reagan's favorite sculptures by American artist Frederic Remington , of broncobusters, cowboys, and outlaws. In the office, important merchandising questions are debated: Should there be an inaugural pendant?Should the heart be gold? Should there be a "Bonzo is king" T-shirt, or any T-shirt at all?
The man around whom all this controversy swirls will be sworn in wearing a "club coat" (a short, dark coat) with striped trousers, silver-gray tie, and no hat.
Our first horseback-riding president since TR will not gallop down Pennsylvania Avenue on a palomino.Nor will he walk, inaugural staff underline. He will ride, in a limo. "Is every president doomed to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue just because of Carter?" one staffer signs. He will, of course, as has already been publicized, be sworn in from the West Wing of the Capitol, whose weaker underpinnings will be draped in red, white, and blue bunting. To accommodate the vast crowd expected in this larger area, and to discourage ice skating, the mall reflecting pool will be drained. Committee spokesmen estimate that $300,000 will be spent on inaugural fireworks, which will light up the sky behind the Capitol just before the free band concert now planned. The fireworks and band concert idea were boffo in Washington in the green summer heat of July 4. But some reporters who remember the polar-cap temperatures of the last inaugural are skeptical about how much of a crowd will gather on a frosty January night for outdoor splendor in the grass.
The architects of the inaugural are asked what they consider the main difference between this and previous ones. "There is a distinct difference, says co-chairman Gray. "The Carter administration called theirs a 'people's inaugural' . . . .In Washington, D.C., it was a people's inaugural, indeed. We're trying to share it in a much broader sense, share it around the nation, not just with the residents of the district, trying to keep the TV audience in mind so that people everywhere will be able to see it. . . ."
There are, of course, other differences between this and previous inaugurals. Last time around, Jimmy Carter and his retinue watched the inaugural parade from the first solar- heated presidential viewing booth. He was, it's true, the first inaugural walker, but he was also the first President since John F. Kennedy free to walk without fear of demonstrations or rioting or violence of some sort.
Richard Nixon's second inaugural drew three antiwar demonstrations, one including a crowd estimated at between 25,000 and 100,000. His inaugural parade theme was "The Spirit of '76," looking forward to the final year in his second term for the nation's Bicentennial, a year in which inauguralless Jerry Ford, as it turned out after Watergate, was President. In his inaugural speech in 1973, Nixon had paraphrased the famous JFK quote and said, "Let each of us ask not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself."
In his previous inauguration, in 1969, 15,000 police, troops, and National Guardsmen were stationed along the parade route and through the city in the most elaborate security measures ever taken for a new president. Some antiwar demonstrators threw rocks and bottles and shouted obscenities at the Nixon limousine. A three-day "counterinaugural" was staged by the National Mobilization Committe to End the War in Vietnam; thousands of its members marched the reverse of the official inaugural parade route. Between 5,000 to 10 ,000 protesters chanted slogans and waved banners denouncing the war, demanding peace. The Youth International Party (Yippies) "inhogurated their candidate for president, a pig.
There was a bulletproof glass swearing-in stand the day Lyndon Johnson was inaugurated. That and the bulletproof reviewing stand and armored presidential limousine were reminders of the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. Still, Johnson, with 5,000 police and troops guarding him, violated his own safety by jumping out of his limousine to greet the marching band of Southwest Texas State College, his alma mater.
The only inaugural threat the day JFK was sworn in was the snow, 7.7 inches of it, which nearly paralyzed this Southern city and prevented former President Herbert Hoover, 86, from flying in.