At last, Obama

The Baltimore Sun

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

Last night's Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center might have been a bit lacking in star power for its guests, who 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."

And at 11:20 p.m., the president and first lady arrived at the sixth of their scheduled 10 stops for the night. They stayed for four minutes, dancing to an instrumental version of the song "At Last," and as he left, President Barack Obama told the crowd, "Let's go change America."

His brief appearance was what many first-time ballgoers, like Rob Calhorn and Kimberly Cooper of Chantilly, Va., had been waiting for all night. They had watched Obama's swearing-in from a distance yesterday, but at the ball they would be in visual range. "It's all about being in the same room as the president," Calhorn said.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, showed up about 10:30 p.m. to a sea of cameras and cheers of "I love you, Joe!" Uncharacteristically, he kept his remarks brief, and then danced to a rendition of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

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 Democratic strategist 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.

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 partly because of Obama's campaign, also performed.

A jam band might have been an unusual choice for a ball, but the group had 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 became so crowded that a second dance floor had to be opened to give those who wanted to dance the chance.

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