By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Jose Ignacio Gaona, a Fort Bragg teenager and son of Mexican immigrants, expects to get a close look Monday at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration.
Gaona, 15, will be among the North Coast residents with tickets giving them access to the viewing area within two blocks of the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, close enough, he figures, “to see what’s going on.”
“I’m definitely excited,” said Gaona, a Fort Bragg High School sophomore who’s earning all A’s and plans to study law or medicine at a top school like Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard or Princeton.
“Always dream big,” Gaona said, adding that he may wind up running for public office because it is “a good way to help.”
He is, incidentally, already in his second term as student representative to the Fort Bragg school board.
As a minority from a low-income family, Gaona said it will be “pretty cool” to see Obama sworn into office in the nation’s 57th presidential inauguration.
He’s one of six Fort Bragg high schoolers in the Partnership Scholars Program attending the inauguration with Rachel Binah, a Democratic National Committee member from Little River in Mendocino County.
Binah, who attended her first inauguration as a toddler in 1949 (it was Harry Truman’s, the first televised inaugural), remembers watching the parade from a window in the Labor Department building.
She attended both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations, but says Obama’s first swearing in four years ago was “the most inspirational of all.”
Obama’s 2009 inauguration as the nation’s first African-American chief executive was a global event, and drew an estimated 1.8 million spectators to the National Mall, the largest event in Washington’s history.
Monday’s is special, as well, Binah said, because she is guiding a group of promising students for the second time, and may not able to repeat the effort in 2016 — unless it’s for Hillary Clinton’s inauguration.
“I’d love to see a woman president so, who knows?” she said.
Courtney Callejas, 25, of Petaluma and her former Sonoma State University schoolmate, Erika Zehn of San Diego, also will be inside the ticketed guest area close to the Capitol.
How close they get will be a test of whose congressman has the most juice, Callejas said.
She got two tickets from freshman Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Zehn obtained a pair from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, a San Diego County Republican who succeeded his father in Congress in 2009.
“We’ll see whose tickets are better,” Callejas said.
Callejas, a 2010 graduate from SSU with a degree in political science, just added a master’s degree in international relations from Kingston University in London and hopes to get a job with the State Department.
The inauguration, she said, will “be like a rock concert” and no less historic because it is Obama’s second term.
She thinks it’s more likely a woman will reach the White House before another African-American moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Hillary Clinton in 2016? “She knows how to play the game,” Callejas said. “She’s been in it. It would be nice to see her there.”
If a career in international relations doesn’t pan out for her, Callejas said she’d like to get into politics.
Two local female political veterans — County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge — also will be in a frigid capital for the hours-long inauguration ceremony and parade.
Snow flurries and a high temperature of 42 degrees are forecast for Monday, followed by a dip below freezing Tuesday and Wednesday. Fudge said she is packing the long wool coat that has gotten her through 16 degree days in New York City.
“It seems like something you should do, probably only once,” Fudge said, bracing for the crowds that will jam the Mall and the subway system. “It’s really going to take some effort.”
Fudge is going with her longtime friend and “travel buddy,” Lisa Walker of Los Altos. They were initially put off by hotel room rates of $600 to $900 a night during inauguration week, but got lodging for free by cashing in their loyalty points.
This will also be the first inauguration for Zane, although she met Obama at a White House summit in 2010.
“It’s not like it was four years ago,” Zane said, anticipating a smaller crowd than in 2009 and fewer inaugural balls.
There are, in fact, only two official soirees: the Inaugural Ball, including entertainers Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, members of the Glee cast, John Legend, Katy Perry and Smokey Robinson; and the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, including service members and their families as free, invited guests.
In 2009, Barack and Michelle Obama attended 10 official inaugural balls stretching into the morning hours.