Inauguration worries: For Jennifer Griffith, it's all about details

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 8, 2009 

US NEWS INAUGURALCOMM 3 MCT

Jennifer Griffith, the No. 2 person at the Joint Congressional Inaugural Commission, appears on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December, 18 2008.

CHUCK KENNEDY — Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — Jennifer Griffith is planning a formal event for 240,000 people, and with just 10 days to go, her to-do list is four pages long.

At night, she tosses and turns, worrying about security.

Griffith is in the thick of the planning for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

As the No. 2 staffer at the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Griffith has been working 12-hour days helping to select the menu for the inaugural luncheon for a political who's who; designing the inauguration tickets; figuring out how to get Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, lawmakers, diplomats and hundreds of others on and off the platform; and arranging the departure ceremony for President George W. Bush.

"We are responsible for the lawful, peaceful transfer of power," she said.

Not bad for a 36-year-old who grew up in Olympia, Wash., majored in sociology and French at Spokane's Gonzaga University and thought when she arrived in Washington, D.C., that she'd be here for only two years. That was 13 years ago.

"It never dawned on me I would do something like this," she said.

An estimated 1 million to 4 million people are expected to descend on Washington for Obama's inauguration Jan. 20. Most of them will be on the National Mall, where they'll watch the ceremony on huge video screens, or lining the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

Griffith, however, will be concerned about the lucky 240,000 who'll be on the Capitol grounds for the swearing-in ceremony. Well more than 1 million people have sought tickets for the event from congressional offices. Some offices received 25,000 requests for the few hundred tickets they were allocated.

"It is a historic, momentous event," she said. "Everyone feels this is something no one expected."

In addition to the congressional committee, Obama has his own inaugural committee, while the Capitol Police, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the District of Columbia government, the military, the National Park Service and a handful of other agencies also are involved in the preparations.

"Everyone is cooperating," Griffith said.

From a Spartan office in a portable building in the courtyard of the Russell Senate Office Building, Griffith and the rest of the congressional committee are working to make sure that things go off without a hitch.

The night before the inauguration, Griffith will sleep in her office. Another staffer suggested that they wear sweat shirts that say "56th Presidential Inauguration Slumber Party." There've been 56 presidential inaugurations, not including swearing-ins after a president died in office or resigned.

On Inauguration Day, Griffith will fret about hundreds of details, and then help escort Vice President-elect Joe Biden to the platform. Rather than attending an inaugural ball that night, she said, she's going home to sleep.

"The day after the election, our seven phone lines lit up and it hasn't stopped since," she said.

The logistics alone can be overwhelming. Roughly 1,600 dignitaries and friends of Obama and Biden will be on the inaugural platform; getting them on and off in a timely matter will be a challenge. There are only three entrances to the platform, and Griffith said that she and her staff already had had three "mini-rehearsals."

Griffith also has monitored the construction of the platform and other details such as the scaffolding that will hold the giant American flags that will provide the backdrop.

She said she was a detail person.

"I am organized," she said.

One thing Griffith can't control, however, is the weather. Washington can be cold and sometimes snowy in late January. President Ronald Reagan's second inauguration was moved inside because of the weather.

"Sunny, 48 degrees, with no wind would be perfect," Griffith said.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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