January 21, 2009 in Region

Spokane celebrates Obama’s inauguration

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Rick Williams had been watching Inauguration Day activities since 5 a.m. but planned to party as late as possible Tuesday night at Spokane’s version of an inaugural ball.

And the retired Army officer, who campaigned hard for Barack Obama last fall, was dressed for the occasion in a T-shirt with a silk-screened picture of President Obama and the date “1.20.09.” He got it a couple of weeks ago, although he said he was so sure of an Obama win he would have bought it last fall if it had been available.

“It’s the first time I wore it in public. I wasn’t about to pass it up,” Williams said as he and his wife, Nicole, navigated the crowd flowing between the Community Building and the Saranac Building in downtown Spokane.

That attire might not have cut it at the balls in the other Washington, but this was Spokane, where people in tuxedos and gowns sipped wine and danced next to partiers in T-shirts and jeans.

Organizer Khalelah Boone said she began planning a party a few days after Obama’s Nov. 4 election. She was in Portland on Election Day, and her sister Angela, who worked on the Obama campaign, was on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. In both places, there was singing in the streets and dancing.

“We decided to bring that energy home to Spokane,” where the sisters are opening an Internet café. “It’s just a time for all of us to come and honor our new president.”

The party was scheduled to go until midnight, but Boone hoped the energy would push it into this morning.

Earlier in the evening, the Rev. Daniel Brazell, an associate minister at Bethel AME Church, talked about Obama and former Spokane Mayor Jim Chase in a presentation to the City Council.

Chase, who was elected mayor in 1981, was one of several elected black leaders whose political success made the inauguration of a black president possible, Brazell said in a later interview.

“So many African-Americans have come before Barrack Obama, and all of what they’ve done paved the way,” he said.

Brazell, who watched the inauguration ceremony at home with his wife, said he was moved “almost to tears” with excitement and joy.

“We’re just overjoyed, because God has answered a prayer and Dr. King’s dream, to a degree, has become a reality,” he said.

Throughout the day, Inland Northwest residents of all political leanings marked the inauguration.

Brian Birren said he didn’t vote for Obama in November, but he was so happy the 44th president was being sworn in Tuesday that he handed out small American flags in the doorway of the Lincoln Barber Shop, in the downtown Spokane skywalk system, where he works.

Birren said he knew more about Republican Sen. John McCain on Election Day. But he’s since read or heard some of Obama’s speeches and liked what he heard.

“It seems in my heart, I should’ve vote for him,” Birren said of Obama.

Last night he went to Wal-Mart and bought 100 flags. About an hour after Obama finished his speech, Birren had given out nearly 60 to passing shoppers and office workers. “Today’s a great event,” he said.

Curt Fackler, the outgoing chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party, also gave Obama’s speech high marks. He worked hard for McCain and other GOP candidates for a year leading up to the Nov. 4 election, but that didn’t matter Tuesday.

“I love politics. I love the country. To see all of those people so happy – it’s like when Reagan came in, there’s going to be a change in the country,” Fackler said.

In 1981, Fackler watched Reagan’s speech as a young Air Force captain, a navigator for a B-52 pulling ground alert at a Strategic Air Command base in Maine. On Tuesday he looked at the young faces in the crowd on the National Mall and thought “this is their time in history.”

He also was happy to see the Obamas and the Bushes giving each other hugs and handshakes. Some countries change leaders with guns in hands and tanks in the streets. America changes leaders with millions in the National Mall and a parade through the capital.

“We’re the only country in the world where that happens,” Fackler said.

In Olympia, the Capitol rotunda and hallways were empty as staffers and lawmakers crowded around televisions.

In the Democratic caucus room, exuberant senators laughed as Chief Justice John Roberts and Obama stumbled over the oath of office. Then they cheered.

“I think we’re entering a more hopeful period,” state Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said.

In the darkened House Republican caucus room, beneath portraits of Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, a few lawmakers and staffers sat in silence, watching a projection TV.

People crammed into the standing-room-only House Democratic caucus room, where a sheet cake waited on a staffer’s desk. “Go Obama!” it read.

Lawmakers, some wiping away tears of happiness, looked up at the screen. Outside the caucus room, a toddler squealed with delight and wheeled a stroller around the abandoned floor of the House of Representatives.

Staff writers Richard Roesler and Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.


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