WASHINGTON, D.C. — Penny and John Clute walked a long way to attend the presidential inauguration on Monday.
The Plattsburgh couple had to park near Arlington Cemetery, 2 miles from the Washington Mall, where they joined some 800,000 revelers to watch President Barack Obama take his oath of office for a second term.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t hear the speech,” said Penny, a retired Plattsburgh City Court judge and former Clinton County district attorney. “There was a Jumbotron screen there, and it worked fine for the hour before the official program started; then the picture and the sound kept going out.
“They had some technology problems.”
Despite the faulty technical connection, she said in a phone interview, the crowd was energized, enthusiastic and upbeat, even in the chilly winter air.
“It was wonderful. It was very positive.”
Amid a diverse program of music and prayer, poetry, remarks and fanfare on the flag-emblazoned steps of the U.S. Capitol, the president spoke, calling several times to “We, the people.”
Obama spoke of Martin Luther King Jr., who, 50 years ago, had addressed the crowd on the Washington Mall and shared the dream he held for humanity.
The celebration of Martin Luther King Day added focus to the 57th inauguration and called to the achievement of a diverse nation.
Obama touched on civil-rights issues, equal pay for women, access to education and health care, and he spoke about the divide between rich and poor. He called for gay and lesbian civil rights and for unity in addressing the threat of climate change.
Before a sea of waving American flags, the president called for prosperity on the backs of a rising American middle class.
“The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob,” Obama said.
“They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed,” the president said Monday just past midday.
“For more than two hundred years, we have.”
ON THE PODIUM
North Country Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) had a great seat for Monday’s ceremony — on the podium with his congressional colleagues.
“The mood was very upbeat and positive, and it had that feel to it,” he told the Press-Republican.
“Democrats and Republicans alike all seemed very chipper.”
Owens said the key now will be for Congress to carry that “feel good” moment into something productive this session.
“People seemed really happy to be there, and if today is any indication, I think there could be some opportunity to come together and get things done.”
Owens said the temperature was in the low 30s and the weather cloudy and a bit damp during the ceremony, but the skies cleared nicely for the afternoon as the president and First Lady Michelle Obama strolled Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the adoring crowd.
“It was cool to be part of the process,” he said.
The Clutes had spent the weekend with family in Alexandria, Va.
“On Saturday, we went to a National Service Fair, as in community-service fair,” Penny said.
“They brought together dozens of organizations and each offered different ways to continue to volunteer within your community.
“That was cool.”
On Sunday, the couple spent part of the day at the National Archives and saw the new Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit, which has made public and included audiotapes from President John F. Kennedy’s phone calls during that critical period in U.S. and world history.
Being in Washington for Obama’s inauguration was exhilarating, Penny said shortly after the event.
“It’s very energizing to be here, to be part of it. There are lots of people, and everybody is upbeat. It’s a real cross-section of people, lots of young people, lots of ethnicity, colors, languages and real diversity.
“That’s part of who he (President Obama) is, and it’s part of what he sees as our role as a country.”
The master of ceremonies for Inauguration 2013 was New York Sen. Charles “Chuck” Schumer, who sat to the president’s right and introduced each justice for the swearing-in ceremonies for both Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.
Schumer introduced the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which performed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in soaring harmony from the portico above the podium.
— News Reporter Joe LoTemplio also contributed to this story
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