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With 40,000 Lights, Bush Opens Inaugural Festivities

January 19, 1989|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — On a day of warmth and sun, of fireworks and flyovers, of lavish dinners, demonstrations for the homeless and 40,000 points of flashlight, George Herbert Walker Bush on Wednesday opened the festivities leading to his inauguration as the 41st President of the United States.

For the next four days and nights, Bush and the senior officials of his Administration-to-be will swirl through a schedule of parties, balls, galas and entertainment that makes up the most expensive inauguration in the nation's history, costing some $30 million.

But behind all the fun is serious purpose. Bush's inauguration Friday morning will represent another of the peaceful transfers of American executive power that remain extraordinary in the tyranny-stained tapestry of world history.

"This is a week that's obviously designed to set the tone for governing," said White House chief of staff-designee John H. Sununu.

Not surprisingly, the tone Bush worked tenaciously to set in the opening appearances of his celebration mirrored the theme of his successful presidential campaign: continuity with the Reagan Administration, but of a "kinder, gentler" sort.

Bush began the day praising teachers, closed it by attending a reception honoring Americans with handicaps and in between repeatedly praised his sponsor and predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

"I am awed by your work," he told the teachers. "Disabled people have been excluded too long," he told the handicapped gathering. "We're not coming in to correct the errors of the past, we're coming in to build on a proud record that's already been established," he said to the Republican National Committee.

"I am following a great President," he said later at a ceremony on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. But, he quickly added: "The job is not complete. Some are still hurting, and we care."

Bush once again cited his favored image of the "thousand points of light," telling an audience estimated by police at 40,000 that the points stand for "the student who stays after school to tutor a classmate . . . a community leader who raises money to build a day care center for underprivileged children . . . the volunteer who delivers meals to the home of the elderly . . . everyone who pitches in and builds up."

Then, as members of the audience held aloft thousand-points-of-light penlights that had been distributed as souvenirs, Bush lit an Olympic size torch. "It is the ambition of my presidency," he said, "to make these thousand points of light shine brighter than ever before. Where today there is darkness, let us work together to bring light to shine on all of God's children."

Three Whirlwind Days

For Bush, who deliberately has kept a low profile for several days so that attention will not be diverted from the approaching celebration, Wednesday was the first of three whirlwind days of public appearances that will reach their climax with Friday's swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address.

For the residents of the capital and the thousands of visitors from around the nation who have jammed hotels and booked virtually every available limousine in the city, it was a day made all the happier by unseasonably warm and sunny weather--a day when people could mingle on the streets, coats off, enjoying the sunshine and the monuments and the moment.

"No matter if you're a supporter or not it's exciting," said Mardy Rausch, of Norfolk, Mass., who had voted for her state's governor, Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, in November. "It's history," she said.

For Mike Hellon, a 46-year-old GOP activist from Tucson, this week's events were a repeat. "We were here in 1981 for Reagan's inaugural," he said. This time, however: "I wanted to show my son. He is old enough to appreciate it now."

Sarah Elizabeth McFall, 14, and New Hampshire's 1988 Teen Young Miss, claimed a personal connection to the President-elect. One of the thousands of Americans who have received personal letters over the years from Bush, McFall met him a year ago, when Bush was campaigning in the New Hampshire primary.

At a Concord, N. H., New Year's Eve party, she said, the candidate and his young supporter exchanged buttons, and a few days later she received a thank you letter from Kennebunkport, Bush's home in Maine.

After the election, McFall said, she wrote to Bush asking how she could get tickets to the inauguration. A few weeks later, the hotly sought-after items appeared in the mail.

"I was surprised he would remember me after all of the people he's met," she said. "I think he's nice and pleasant."

Bush received even warmer words earlier in the day when he met with 16 surviving crew members of the Finback, the submarine that rescued him 44 years ago when, as a World War II Navy flier, he was shot down over the Pacific.

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