Waiting for Obama

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - Beyonce was serenading upstairs. Marc Anthony was holding court down the hall. And Oprah was reportedly partying across town.

Yes, last night's Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was lacking a bit of star power for its guests, which included ticket holders from Maryland, but few if any complained.

"Obama is coming to this ball, and that's what really matters," said Shawn Davis of Washington. "It isn't about Beyonce. Sorry, Beyonce. It's all about Obama."

It was one of 10 official inaugural balls President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were guaranteed to attend. (Obama was set to arrive a little after midnight.) His attendance was the chief selling point for many first-time ball-goers like Rob Calhorn and Kimberly Cooper of Chantilly, Va. They had watched Obama's swearing-in from a distance yesterday morning, but at the ball they would be in visual range. "It's all about being in the same room as the president," Calhorn said.

While Obama was the drawing card, other political celebrities mingled in the crowd, including Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, New York Gov. David A. Paterson, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Demoratic stategist Terry McAuliffe.

The ball was for residents of Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., and the tickets cost $150 each. More adult prom than elegant soiree, it featured buffet-style pasta and a long line for the cash bar.

There were also photo booths where attendees could get commemorative snapshots of themselves taken.

Gradually, the ballroom filled up throughout the night to a capacity crowd of about 7,000. Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean was a surprise addition to the musical lineup kicking off a short musical set. The Dead, former members of the Grateful Dead who reunited partially because of Obama's campaign, also performed.

A jam band may have been an unusual choice for a ball, but not one without its fans, including Abby Penskey of Kensington. "I really thought about wearing my Birkenstocks under this dress," she said with a smile.

Early in the evening, attendees staked out positions around the stage to get a good look of the president and first lady. The area got so crowded that a second dance floor had to be opened to give those who wanted to dance the chance.

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