While Mike Easley puts together his administration, others are hurriedly preparing a big party for the governor-elect's inauguration next month.
The incoming chief executive of North Carolina says he has one request for organizers: Make events as accessible to the public as possible. And that means hours of free entertainment for folks who cannot afford a ticket to the high-priced inaugural balls.``I've only been insistent that there be something free and fun and enjoyable for everyone,' said Easley, a Democrat, who will take the oath Jan. 6 as the state's 72nd governor. ``The exclusivity of the balls has always bothered me.'
Traditionalists, take heart: As usual, the balls are a go the night before the swearing-in ceremony. Now the task for the eight people planning an Inauguration Day schedule is to meet Easley's demand.
Armed with $150,000 in taxpayers' money, staff for the Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies have hunkered down in a nondescript state-government complex and started planning events that involve Easley's campaign promise to champion ``working families' and to create a united North Carolina.
The team is lining up musical acts and dance troupes - perhaps even mountain cloggers - to perform. It is also picking participants to march in the parade through downtown Raleigh. Like a university coach hunting prospects at Friday night high school football games, an entertainment coordinator has been trolling community Christmas celebrations in search of worthy talent.
Still in the works are indoor activities at the state history and natural science museums and on the plaza between the buildings, next to the Capitol. Inaugural planners have been seeking sponsors so the public, as Easley wants, can party at no cost.
All work must be done quickly. The inaugural committee, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday, has to sign off on the details. Among its members are several Triad residents, including state Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford.
Despite the many hours of planning ahead, one detail will definitely remain up in the air.
``You can only do so much about the weather,' said Meg Ryan O'Donnell, a Raleigh consultant who is a coordinator of the inauguration. ``You can ... pray, but we just know it's going to be cold.'
Recent inaugurals bear solid proof.
In 1993, rain drenched those on hand for Gov. Jim Hunt's inauguration to a third term. Four years later, frigid winds iced his fourth swearing-in ceremony, held at a historic high school near downtown Raleigh. The setting served as a symbol of his pledge to improve education and raise teacher salaries.
This year, the inauguration will return to the steps of the state Archives Building, a site used the last two decades. Crews erected part of the stage there Thursday.
Easley, who faces a budget deficit when he takes office, joked that he had briefly considered picking a location emblematic of the chief challenge his administration faces.
``I thought that maybe we ought to hold it in front of a bank, so we could get a loan,' he cracked.
Seriously, inaugural organizers say the Archives Building works best because it is accessible to the public and close to other venues being used for inaugural events. The Capitol and governor's mansion are quick walks away.
Events are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., when Easley and the nine other Council of State officials take their oaths. The new governor also will deliver his inaugural address.
Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program in Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill, said Easley's first gubernatorial statement might not be memorable but it would ``force him and his team to get focused.'
``While the public won't be quoting the speech six months later, (the governor) will remember it, his people will remember it, and the legislature will know what he wants,' Guillory said.
For the rest of the day, the public can enjoy a parade and other public festivities, and perhaps a reception at the governor's mansion.
The evening before, the Junior League of Raleigh will host an inaugural ball. It has done so since 1933, when Democrat J.C.B. Ehringhaus of Pasquotank County assumed the governorship.
The inaugural ball is pricey: A single ticket, the cheapest package possible, runs $100.
For folks with disposable income, $5,000 gets 10 tickets to the ball and a special cocktail reception, 10 tickets for ``preferred seating' at the inauguration, five parking passes and written recognition in a program.
The ball, actually three simultaneous dances at the Raleigh convention center, is a prime opportunity for the Junior League to raise money for charity.
``It's not a cheap affair,' the Junior League president, Walker Mabe, said in a telephone interview as she walked down a Manhattan street Friday. ``But I think that it's a pretty good deal.'\ \ Contact Eric Dyer at (919) 832-5549 or firstname.lastname@example.org