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Take the oath, hold the confetti

Team Schwarzenegger, budget crunch in mind, plans muted festivities.

November 14, 2003|Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Arnold Schwarzenegger's team said the new governor's swearing-in would be muted. Still, Mike Carlson figured, a guy could dream.

"Gray Davis' first inaugural, we made like $125,000 in three days. It was insane," sighed the CEO of Universal Limousine and Transportation, whose clients also have included both Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party.

"Bigwigs came up from L.A. -- Johnnie Cochran, that lawyer Shapiro, Coolio. Even his second one, people rented a ton of cars from us. But not this time. We'll be lucky if we make 600 bucks this time."

Constrained by propriety, politics and unprecedented time pressures, next week's inaugural hoopla will be among the most understated, and closely held, in modern memory. Past swearings-in have meant galas, balls and days' worth of photo-ops and mixers, plus corollary circuits of hospitality suites and lobbyists' receptions.

Typically, the events are underwritten by jubilant campaign donors. Even amid the state's budget crisis, Gov. Gray Davis' supporters spent $1 million for his second-term inaugural.

But to the disappointment of the local party industry and the masses who have flocked on other occasions for a glimpse of Schwarzenegger, this inaugural's festivities will be quick, contained and restricted almost entirely to invited guests and ticket-holders.

The partying will consist of a few extremely private mixers and dinners and a quick blitz of invitation-only luncheons. Monday's swearing in on the Capitol steps, organizers say, will be "brief and simple and dignified" and inaccessible to the public. Almost everything will take place in the space of a few blocks and within the span of about 24 hours.

In fact, because dibs on the blocks of hotel rooms that have been reserved by Team Schwarzenegger will go to friends, family and major supporters, the clearest measure of status, aside from a full set of invitations, is likely to be the ability to walk from one shindig to another. That or the ability to send regrets. A number of the governor-elect's best-known backers, from Jay Leno and Bruce Willis to Wolfgang Puck and Marvin and Barbara Davis, say they won't be attending. Most cite conflicting engagements or a desire to help the celebrity-turned-governor minimize unseemly glitz and ostentation.

A few also note that they have seen plenty of Schwarzenegger already and plan to see more of him.

"I was there when they found out they won -- I mean it's not as if I don't know him and haven't done this," confided one Orange County Republican who was weighing whether to make the trip north.

"On the other hand," he joked, reading from a solicitation to major donors, "if you contribute $15,000 [to underwrite the swearing in], you get a reception at the Hyatt Regency on Sunday, continental breakfast on Monday, reserved seating at the ceremony and a private hosted lunch at the Sutter Club. Plus a special rate at the Hyatt."

This, he noted, was no small consideration, since both hotels nearest the Capitol -- the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton Grand -- are booked solid Sunday night, and the $185 rate quoted for a nonsmoking room at the Hyatt is several hundred dollars below retail.

"I can get a room for just $15,185," the donor pointed out, laughing, "provided I don't smoke in it."

Schwarzenegger's transition team has warned for weeks that this changing of the guard would be resolutely "low-key." Among other things, his backers have referred to the event everywhere but on the invitations as a "swearing in" rather than an "inauguration."

"This hasn't been a normal election cycle and the state is in serious financial trouble," explained one Schwarzenegger advisor, speaking on condition that his name not be used. "It's not time to send a message that, hey, it's time to party. It's time to send the message that it's time to roll up our sleeves."

Moreover, the recall election compressed the usual transition deadlines, which typically give a new governor about two months to plan. And in Schwarzenegger's case, officials said, the logistics are particularly time-consuming -- a literal cross between an A-list Hollywood party and a Kennedy family reunion, thanks to his show-business career and the political lineage of Maria Shriver, his wife.

"There are just a lot of moving parts," said Marty Wilson, who was Schwarzenegger's campaign director and is now the executive director of the swearing-in committee. Still, the occasion required some marking, if only to help underwrite the ceremony, which -- even at a fraction of the cost of the Davis inaugurals -- is expected to cost about $250,000.

Thus, Wilson said, the planning began immediately after the election. The swearing-in committee reserved some 700 of the 1,250 or so rooms at the three hotels closest to the Capitol for the night before the ceremony, a necessity, he added, because "30, 40, 50 family members" were expected just from Shriver's side.

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