Md. State House a Ghost Town as Legislators Celebrate Obama's Inauguration

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By Erika Woodward and Maren Wright
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - The State House was a ghost town on Tuesday, with many of Maryland's legislators away celebrating the inauguration of President Obama.

In the hallway, the click of security boots echoed between the Senate and House chambers at 9:30 a.m. Only two reporters typed, the clicking of keys barely heard over the rumble of trash cans being rolled down the hall.

Ten minutes later, pages scurried about and lobbyists trickled in. Finally, a few voices were heard as legislators began to pass through the grand State House doors.

But by 10 a.m., there were still not enough voices to drown out the click of the boots. The cold inauguration-day weather may be the only reason enough legislators were present to hold a session.

"All the people that are left here are people that don't like cold weather or crowds," said Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, adding there were not enough present to conduct any business.

Tuesday marked the historic inauguration of the first black president of the United States, and many lawmakers in the predominantly Democratic legislature traded a day in the somber state capital for the celebration in the nation's capital.

"There is a buzz in the air," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, as he stood in the hall before the session came to order.

Zirkin explained that even with the current budget problems there was a sense of hope and optimism in the House.

"Can't you feel it?" he asked.

Delegate Curtis Anderson, D-Baltimore, said he's thankful his colleagues are playing hooky. He went so far as to give away his tickets to the inauguration to members of his delegation.

"I wanted them to be a part of history," said Anderson, who was able to spend a lot of time watching Obama as he campaigned along with him in the fall.

His children also celebrated on the National Mall.

"I'm fine watching the inauguration on TV," he said.

So was Zirkin.

"I will be rushing home to watch the inauguration on TV with my wife and 18-month-old daughter," he said.

The University of Maryland had a similar quiet, ghostly air on Tuesday, with those who remained on campus content to view the historic events on television.

Though the walks and buildings appeared nearly vacant, small crowds clustered in groups of two to 10 around television screens across campus.

The Hoff Theater broadcast the inauguration and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center set up a big screen and projected the events.

Drayton Foltz, director of production and technology for the Clarice Smith center, wanted to make sure there would be enough indoor viewing space.

Though small in number, with no more than 150 at either location, the groups that gathered at the center were spirited.

"I have never in my life experienced such joy in the country as this," said Margaret Maring. She came to the center to find a warm place to enjoy the ceremony with her grandson and his mother.

"O-Ba-Ma" the 4-year-old grandson, Leo Maring, chanted when Obama's face appeared on the screen. He proudly waved his hand-made, paper American flag as he watched the inauguration.

Alison Hennessee watched the ceremony indoors, choosing not to rush to the National Mall with her two brothers, who drove all night from Atlanta to be present at the celebration.

"I've been to two of Obama's speeches," Hennessee said, content to avoid the crowds and the cold.

Back at the State House, business was convened and conducted quickly, coordinating well with inaugural events.

At 10:07 a.m., when some 70 lawmakers were seated in the House chamber, they began taking a visual inventory of the room, and many asked aloud, do we have enough to hold a session?

The answer: just barely.

"There are 78, and they need 71," for a quorum, said page Greg Waterworth.

By 10:08 the morning prayer began, asking for "blessings" for Obama that he may "lead this nation into virtue."

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, took the podium. He announced there were no committee meetings and adjourned by 10:13 a.m.

Two minutes later the chamber was nearly empty.

Before Anderson left, Trooper First Class Stanley Slide asked him to take his picture so he could show his grandkids that he was at the State House on Jan. 20, 2009.

"Even though I couldn't make it to (Washington) ? I still feel like I'm a part of what's going on," Slide said.

Slide didn't mind guarding the empty house.

"Our legislators are in Washington, D.C., celebrating history. It should be inspiring for them, to one day become Barack Obama, because he started in a State House in Illinois and now he is president of the United States," he said.

By 10:15 a.m. the State House was a ghost town once again.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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