Lean inaugural events reflect Pennsylvania's hard times

| Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

HARRISBURG -- The celebration surrounding Tom Corbett's inauguration as Pennsylvania's 46th governor will not include a parade around the Capitol. No concerts by rock legends. Just one inaugural ball.

Organizers said they are limiting the number of events, citing hard economic times.

A performing arts program, a Roman Catholic Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and an inaugural ball at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex will be part of the Jan. 18 event.

Inaugural celebrations usually combine casual parties with formal events. The bills are paid by private donors, including corporations and organized labor groups that often have a direct stake in state policies.

In the modern history of gubernatorial inaugurations in Pennsylvania, Mark Schweiker set a standard for low-key in 2001. He took the oath less than a month after 9/11 and days before his predecessor, Tom Ridge, officially became the country's first homeland security chief.

Schweiker was sworn in on the front steps of the state Capitol before about 2,000 people. There was no parade, no ball and no entertainment besides a marching band from Bloomsburg University,Schweiker's alma mater.

Ridge's first inauguration attracted 9,000 people in 1995. Afterward, he and his wife led the state's first inaugural parade in 20 years in a march around the Capitol. Five thousand attended a ball at the Milton Hershey School, where two orchestras, a jazz ensemble and three smaller groups performed.

Four years later, as Ridge started his second term, 3,000 people paid $50 a ticket to attend a pre-inaugural concert featuring Motown artists, and even more attended a ball spread over three ballrooms, each featuring dance music from a different period.

When Democrat Ed Rendell took office in 2003, more than 5,000 people joined the inaugural parade. Nearly 10,000 paid $50 apiece to attend a concert featuring Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker, and a ball in a dressed-up farm show complex.

In 2007, Rendell's second inauguration featured another concert -- by Bon Jovi, the Dixie Hummingbirds and one-time teen idol Frankie Avalon -- in conjunction with the ball.

Corbett, a Republican from Shaler who is state attorney general, is not having a parade. Like Ridge and Rendell, he plans to take his oath on the steps of the east entrance to the Capitol, where a large fountain is framed by a granite amphitheater.

Tickets to the arts program, the Mass and the inauguration are free, but seating will be limited. Tickets to the ball are $150.

The inaugural committee has set up a website -- www.corbettcawleyinaugural.com -- where people can learn more about the events and order tickets. The site offers four sponsorship levels, with a $50,000 contribution getting four tickets to a benefactors dinner, four preferred seats at the swearing-in ceremony, eight tickets to a sponsors' reception and recognition in the inaugural program.

Organizers are still firming up the event's details, said spokeswoman Kirsten Page.

"It's like planning a wedding for 8,000 people in two days," she said.

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