EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2009

Merrimack Valley residents ready for today's inauguration

It's everything Obama in the nation's capital

By Bill Kirk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The city is abuzz with Obamamania.

From the street vendors selling $5 buttons and $10 commemorative coins to the highest-ranking government officials rubbing elbows at posh inaugural balls, it was all about Barack Obama, who takes the oath of office as president this morning.

The days leading up to the inauguration were filled with parties, shopping for memorabilia, and soaking up the atmosphere.

Many people from Massachusetts were in Washington over the long holiday weekend, some attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors, others checking out the festivities.

Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan and Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini were both at the mayors conference, usually held in January and coinciding this year with the inauguration.

Although they were there to attend a number of sessions on municipal government, there was no escaping the big events at the U.S. Capitol and the White House nearby.

During a cocktail reception and dinner at the National Building Museum on Saturday night, they sat with Andover resident Bill Fallon, who was in town for the inauguration but also visited friends from the Merrimack Valley.

His daughter Bridget works for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, so he got great tickets to the inauguration.

"This is a good day for the country," said Fallon, who works for Verizon but enjoys politics as a hobby. "He has great ideas."

Sitting with Fallon and Sullivan at the dinner was Mayor John Barrett of North Adams.

"There's a big excitement that's out there," he said. "Obama recognizes the fact that so much hope is placed in him. The pressure must be unbelievable."

But many believe Obama is up to the task.

Laura Vogler, 19, of Andover, a freshman at American University in Washington, said she attended a rally for Obama last year in Boston and has been a supporter ever since.

"I'm excited," Vogler said, as she and her boyfriend, Chris McVeigh of Acton, rode the subway to Sunday's inaugural concert on the Mall — the stretch of National Park Service land between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

The concert was attended by an estimated 500,000 people, including Erin Pezzo, 25, and Spencer Naake, 28, both of whom go to Western New England School of Law in Springfield.

"We're thrilled about the inauguration," said Pezzo, who lives in New York.

Brenda Stith, 50, of Atlanta came with a group of friends and family, and even had a homemade button on her wool cap that said "Stiths for Obama."

"I couldn't pass up the opportunity," she said. "I'm here for the movement and the spirit and the change for the country. This is something memorable to pass onto our children and grandchildren."

Her friend, Beverly Stanley, 45, also of Atlanta, agreed.

"I'm hoping to get inspiration to do what I need to do to support my country," she said. "We can't do it alone, and he can't do it alone. He's a great leader and has a great team."

While this past weekend was an opportunity for inspiration, it also was a chance to make some money.

On 17th and G streets, NW, just a block from the White House, Ken David of Washington, whose wife is from Medford, sold what he called the Obama Inauguration Ball.

They are miniature basketballs with a picture of Obama and the number 44, as well as other images. David, an entrepreneur with ties to manufacturing plants in China, came up with the idea at Thanksgiving dinner and began selling the balls in Washington over the weekend.

His prices varied as he negotiated with just about every person who approached him. In his sales pitch, he pronounced "Best Swishes" to Obama and used other clever phrases to attract customers. One customer paid $15 each, another $17.50.

Other vendors took a more traditional route, selling coins, buttons, bobblehead dolls and T-shirts.

John Long and his wife, Shih, street vendors for 20 years, said Obama is good for business and the nation. The hottest-selling items, he said, are big pins with a picture of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

People came from all over the country. A group of college students from Chicago checked out the Obama buttons and hats at 17th and G streets, including Anne Hart, 20, a student at Duke University, and Nina Mossad, a student at the University of Michigan.

They both visited their friend Katherine Hayes, a student at George Washington University. The young women grew up in the same neighborhood as Obama, and attended the same school system as his children before moving to D.C.

"I've always loved Obama," Hart said. "He'll do a great job."

At a deli nearby, a family from Vallejo, Calif., warmed themselves with hot soup, tea and foccacia sandwiches.

Gladys Miles, 65, her daughter Janitress Nathaniel, 36, and her daughter Sidney, 4, all of Vallejo, vowed to go to the inauguration even though they didn't have tickets.

For many people, the inauguration was just the icing on the cake for an otherwise exciting and fun-filled weekend.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party, for example, hosted a party Sunday night at Nationals Park, the new stadium built for the Washington Nationals baseball team. There were parties on two levels, with a disc jockey on one floor and cocktails and desserts on the other.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was spotted as were Essex County District Attorney Jon Blodgett, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, state Sen. Tom McGee of Lynn, and many others from the Bay State.

Many people said Sunday's concert was a great way to experience the festivities.

John Copacino of Washington attended the concert with friends, standing in the crowd with hundreds of thousands of people as they were entertained by Mary K. Blige, Beyonce, Bono from U2, Garth Brooks and many others.

Celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Jack Black read inspirational quotes from historical leaders and luminaries.

"I don't feel like I need to go to the inauguration now," said Copacino, a law professor at Georgetown University. "That was amazing."

Others felt the same.

A young family from Rockville, Md. — George Ashton, 30, his 2-year-old son Andrew, and his wife, Monique, 29, were inspired by the concert.

"This is a new hope for our country," Monique said. "People are so engaged and mobilized and hopeful to be an American."

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