January 18, 2005
Some people might think Gordon James had a ball working on events during President Bush’s re-election campaign last year. By Thursday night, when the inauguration hoopla is over, they’ll be right.
The Scottsdale resident, who put in long hours and traveled the country to continue serving a family he has known for 26 years, is deputy director of events for Thursday’s 55th Presidential Inauguration.
James and staff members from Gordon C. James Public Relations in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., arranged pre-election events for Bush, including the presidential debate at Arizona State University, from set-up to take down. At every venue, things had to go as smoothly as possible.
An old friend and his son were counting on it.
After months of hard work, James was allowed to take some time off. Because of Bush’s victory, that turned out to be a short respite of 13 days.
Since Nov. 15, James has put in 17-hour days and seven-day weeks in Washington to work on his third inaugural. James served in the same capacity in 2001 and was director of invitations and tickets for George H.W. Bush’s inaugural in 1989.
The primary objective for James and the inaugural staff — he manages a group of about 300 — is helping visitors find their way around town and enjoy the inaugural experience.
Although James doesn’t handle security arrangements, he admits there are more concerns for this year’s, the first inauguration since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Thursday has been designated a national security day, with the highest possible level of protection in place. Inauguration Day is also a holiday for federal workers in the District of Columbia and some parts of Maryland and Virginia.
"We wondered, ‘How do you do an inaugural during wartime?,’ " James said. "We went back in history. There were inaugurals despite Vietnam and World War II. In 1864, Lincoln had inaugural balls while the (Civil) War was going on about 20 miles down the road. They still celebrated and we must celebrate, too."
James said he and other members of the Inaugural Committee have heard criticism about spending $40 million for a four-day party while funding is needed for tsunami victims and to fight insurgents in Iraq. He said the inaugural is 100 percent privately funded.
"I am thrilled we are going to hold this inaugural, which is a tradition of our country dating back to George Washington, in spite of pressure from some who think it’s not an appropriate thing to do (in wartime)," James said. "This is a tradition that needs to go on."
He said his group tries to make sure people traveling to Washington have a good time. Workers understand, and expect, long hard days leading up to the events. James’ job includes everything from having information booths set up in hotels and around town to hiring coat-check personnel.
"Most people coming here have no idea what they are getting into." James said. "We want to make this as userfriendly an experience as we possibly can."
James and his staff members, including Greg Edgar, Brian O’Malley and Christine Walton of the Phoenix office, have arranged 33 sanctioned events, including nine inaugural balls.
Other Scottsdale contributions will come from the Arizona Angels dancing group and Lorraine Cooper, owner of Brady’s Floral Gallery in Scottsdale. James got the Angels involved.
While attending a party in Scottsdale, he lamented the fact every state but his own already had a dance or marching group lined up for the inaugural parade. Kim Brown, whose daughter, Darby, is an Arizona Angel, had a videotape from studio founder and owner Amy Leroy-Gelb. Brown gave it to James, who liked it and recommended the group to the parade committee.
"We’ve done bowl parades, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland and the Super Bowl," Leroy-Gelb said. "This will be our biggest honor."
Cooper is one of 200 floral designers who have volunteered to help turn 250,000 flowers and foliage into more than 3,500 arrangements for the inaugural balls, three dinners and other official receptions and events.
Balls will be held Thursday evening at hotels and other venues throughout Washington. Arizonans will attend the Democracy Ball at the Convention Center. President Bush, first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney will briefly attend each ball.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Ball will be a special celebration for troops and their families, focusing on those who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and those who will soon be deployed. The event was added to the inauguration celebrations at Bush’s suggestion.
James said he has worked closely with the Secret Service, Washington Metropolitan Police Department and Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority— attendees are encouraged to use the Metro to and from events. He has met weekly with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin to discuss inaugural preparations.
"We’re here to facilitate, to make sure things go smoothly," James said. "We’re really lucky to do it. To get to do this for my friend, Dad Bush, and now the president, has been an honor. This doesn’t happen to everybody."
James said it won’t happen for again for him, though he will produce his fifth consecutive Easter egg roll on March 28 at the White House.
"I only do Bush family events, so this is it," James said. "Lots of people are wandering the halls here saying, ‘I can’t wait until Jan. 21.’ It will be a sad day for me because this is a lot of fun. I really have enjoyed every minute of service."