When Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office on Friday morning and becomes the 45th president of the United States, the pomp and circumstance surrounding him will have been the result of a whirlwind of planning and fundraising.
This is what it was like to plan an inauguration, that of outgoing President Barack Obama, according to two of the people who were responsible for pulling it off.
Emmett Beliveau had spent months as Obama’s advance man, organising and coordinating all the logistics of nearly all campaign events, from his announcement to his victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago, before he became CEO of 2009’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.
“A good way to describe it is starting, running, and winding down a midsize business in the course of about 10 weeks,” Beliveau, who is now COO of an entertainment and music-festival company called C3 Presents, said in an interview.
Starting in mid-November, he had to obtain 25 jumbo TV screens and speakers along the National Mall. Concerts had to be booked and celebrities coddled. He had to orchestrate a train trip that would transport the president from Illinois to Washington, D.C., picking up Vice President Joe Biden along the way.
Too many porta-potties
With record turnout expected, he realised he had new problems to solve. Part of the Mall, typically used as a staging area where parade animals are kept and fed, needed to be freed so that more attendees could fit. So he had to quickly find somewhere else to keep the horses. The work was important but not always glamorous.
“I think we had 5000 porta-potties,” Beliveau said. Along the way he learned there’s such a thing as too many porta-potties. “They can become a hindrance to crowd flow.”
Then there’s fundraising. While Congress and the military pay for some of the essential parts of the inauguration, like the swearing-in ceremony, it’s up to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to foot the bill for everything from galas to toilets. The committee has to raise millions of dollars quickly.
“It’s warp speed,” Brian Screnar, the finance director for Obama’s first inauguration, told Business Insider.
Screnar had been deputy finance director for the 2008 campaign and knew how to raise money. But now he had to raise about $50 million in a few weeks. That year, Obama forbade corporate giving and all donations above $50,000. There was so much interest in the election that the restrictions didn’t hinder fundraising, but it created a logistical challenge managing a deluge of smaller gifts. That’s likely less of an issue for President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, which has received large corporate gifts and reportedly raised $90 million.
“Most of us — including all the leadership — had never done this before,” he said. Making matters worse, the bills for the events were coming fast. They needed to spend the money as soon as they raised it. “Everything has to be signed almost immediately.”
When January 20 arrived, Beliveau’s planning had paid off, but he had a traffic issue. Early in the morning, he was on one side of Washington, at a command center, keeping an eye on buses. Then he realised there was no good way to get to the Capitol for the swearing-in.
Trying to figure out how to get there quickly, he had an idea that only the guy running the show — with every security pass a person could muster — could have pulled off.
“I said, why don’t we just drive up Pennsylvania Avenue,” which was closed for the parade. He looked up the map of checkpoints. A Secret Service agent, incredulous, asked him if he was serious.
“And I said ‘yeah,'” Beliveau recalls. “And they said ‘all right.’ We drove up a closed Pennsylvania Avenue that was already ready for the parade and lined with military and law enforcement.”
He made it in time to be nearby when Obama became the 44th president.