Some Offices Cope With Inaugural Ticket Rush

Posted December 3, 2004 at 6:09pm

These days, Sen. George Allen’s constituents are in a tizzy, but they aren’t focusing on intelligence reform or the debt ceiling. No, they’re craving tickets to the inauguration.

“We are just getting inundated,” said David Snepp, press secretary for the Virginia Republican. As of last week, Allen’s office had tallied requests for more than 1,800 tickets for the Jan. 20 swearing-in of President Bush at the Capitol.

Though tickets won’t be distributed to Members of Congress until the second week of January, Members with particularly high volumes of requests are already turning to colleagues for help.

“There’s a bunch of horsetrading that goes on with the tickets,” said Joe Milczewski, a spokesman for Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.). The swearing-in of a fellow Wyomingite, Vice President Cheney, has meant that Cubin will likely need all of her allocation “and probably more,” even though she represents the least populous state in the nation.

“Dick Cheney has a lot of friends in Wyoming,” Milczewski said, adding that the office was already negotiating with local hotels for lower rates for Wyoming attendees. “I’m sure Barbara is reaching out to her friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Each Senate office receives exactly 393 tickets, including 28 that are seated. Each House office gets 197, including 20 seated.

Not surprisingly, Republicans from neighboring states, such as Virginia, as well as those from Texas, the president’s home state, are reporting some of the highest demand.

“What happens is that far-away and liberal districts won’t have as many ticket requests and are usually able to share them with us,” said Jeff Walton, a spokesman for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whose office has already received nearly 800 requests.

At the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which distributes the tickets to Members, newly hired Press Secretary Thomas Basile — a former senior press adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad — said, “It’s completely up to [Members] how they shuffle the tickets between themselves.”

In 1996, when Democrat Bill Clinton was sworn in for a second term, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) redistributed some of her unused tickets to Democratic Members, said her spokesman, Kevin Schweers.

Now, with the tables turned and Hutchison’s requests outpacing her available tickets by 10-to-1, the senior Senator from Texas is hoping someone will repay the favor. Hutchison’s office recently sent out a letter to mainly Democratic colleagues asking for unused tickets.

“We have a notice on our Web site informing people that we are not able to accept any more requests, but that’s not stopping anyone from trying,” Schweers said.

And Republicans aren’t the only ones who have been forced to beg for their colleagues’ leftovers.

The office of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), which typically receives numerous inaugural inquiries, is also appealing to fellow Members for help. “We have a history of large requests, so we try to be proactive,” said Dingell spokesman Adam Benson.

In the nearby 2nd district of Maryland, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), whose inaugural ticket requests numbered 300 and counting last week, sent out a “Dear Colleague” to the same end.

Even in some far-flung places, such as traditionally Democratic-leaning Puerto Rico, interest is strong.

At a recent post-election cocktail party for Republicans in San Juan, “everybody went crazy asking for inauguration tickets,” said Annie Mayol, executive director of the commonwealth’s Republican Party organization. She attributed the high demand to the combined effect of the election of the island’s first GOP-backed Resident Commissioner in a century, Luis Fortuño — a member of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party, which identifies with mainland Republicans — and the re-election of President Bush.

In interviews, most offices said inaugural tickets would be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Four years ago, “I had to sit in the cheap seats — and I knew somebody,” joked Don Stewart, an aide to then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who now serves as press secretary to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Still, a spokesman for Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) — whose office has never had trouble meeting constituent demand — said that an unspecified number of tickets would be set aside for donors.

Confronted with limited supply, at least one office has devised a creative approach to doling out the tickets.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) is offering constituents who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars up to three tickets each. She is also holding an essay contest, titled “Why I Want to Attend the Presidential Inauguration,” for students in her district. Each winning student will receive three tickets, said Bob Honold, Brown-Waite’s press secretary.

Other offices are hoping that technology will ease the burden. Several offices have added features to their Web sites that enable constituents to request Inauguration tickets online.

“They know the demand will be there, and they are being proactive in trying to manage it,” said Nicole Folk, editor of the e-newsletter Congress Online, which tracks developments in Members’ Web sites.

But for every office flooded with inaugural requests, another — more often than not, a Democratic office — reported minimal demand.

The office of incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) only had about 20 names on its list as of last week. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), characterized demand from constituents as “pretty quiet.”

“Right now planning for the inaugural is probably being eclipsed by planning for the holidays,” said Aaron Lewis, the outgoing press secretary to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

In addition to the Inauguration itself, some Congressional offices are also receiving a spate of calls for tickets to the Texas State Society’s “Black Tie and Boots” ball, held the night before the inauguration. The ball — dubbed by state society president Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) as “the largest inaugural ball ever in the history” of the balls — is widely viewed as one of the hottest tickets in town among constituents and Members alike.

But only Texas Members, who get two free tickets each, are guaranteed access. Each Lone Star State House Member also has the opportunity to purchase up to 20 additional tickets; while each Texas Senator can buy up to 40 tickets. Rep. Charles Gonzalez’s (D-Texas) office still had a about a dozen tickets available — at $125 a pop — as of last week.

While “essentially” none of the roughly 10,000 ball tickets is left, said Granger, that hasn’t stopped non-Texas Members from requesting them, though most have been “very understanding” that constituents and Texas Society Members have first dibs, she said. (Truly desperate Members with deep pockets can always turn to eBay. As of press time Friday, bidding was up to $2,601 for a pair of tickets to the ball. Another pair was listed at $3,000.)

Despite the apparent scarcity of “Black Tie and Boots” passes, some Congressional offices said they might still be able to get their hands on a few more for constituents.

“Wyoming and Texas have a special relationship,” said Milczewski of Cubin’s office. “The tickets may be sold out, but I think we have access.”