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Hitting lottery to see historic inauguration

Robin Didden of Seminole Heights plans to take her mother, Sharon, to Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Robin Didden of Seminole Heights plans to take her mother, Sharon, to Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.

TAMPA — Ordinarily, Robin Didden wouldn't find the prospect of cold weather and long lines her idea of a good time.

But Didden is ecstatic that she'll experience just that on Jan. 20 along with millions of others attending Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The nation's inauguration of its 44th president is considered the Super Bowl of political pomp, and Didden is among those in the Tampa Bay area who snared tickets. The Seminole Heights banking project manager got them by writing to the office of her congressional representative, Rep. Kathy Castor, the day after the election.

Didden, 35, thought she was out of luck when Castor's office told her that it had more than 3,000 requests — but only 200 tickets. Castor resorted to a lottery, Didden said. She was astonished to find an e-mail from Castor's office on Dec. 16 with the news that she won two tickets.

"I'm so excited that I'm getting this opportunity," she said. "This is my chance to see history firsthand."

Rep. C.W. Bill Young's office got more than 500 requests, said chief of staff Harry Glenn.

Young will try to give tickets first-come, first-served only to constituents of Florida's 10th Congressional District, Glenn said.

No one has been promised anything.

"He's trying to wean down the list as best he can," Glenn said Tuesday.

Florida 9th District Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis said his office is no longer accepting requests for inauguration tickets, according to his Web site, and people who requested tickets before Nov. 13 have had their name placed on a waiting list.

Tickets will be distributed based on the date of the request, Bilirakis' office said.

The challenge for those like Didden who end up with tickets is a matter of logistics. Washington-area officials estimate that 2-million to 4-million people will try to attend the inauguration. Getting hotel rooms is close to impossible.

Didden said she found one vacancy, but it asked a pricey $900 a night, for a minimum of four nights. So she's using connections for a place to stay.

Didden is taking her mom, Sharon, whose used to babysit a neighbor's daughter. The daughter now lives in Maryland. The Diddens will stay there, though it's an hour away.

Getting a flight wasn't a problem for Didden because she travels often for her job and her frequent-flier miles helped secure a good fare.

It will be a chore getting the actual inauguration tickets, however. Castor's Washington office will hand out the tickets the day before the inauguration. So will the other congressional offices. Didden has been told to expect a wait of three to four hours.

But she and her mom don't mind at all.

"Crowds don't bother me," Sharon Didden said. "I'm used to Gasparilla and the Super Bowl."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

Hitting lottery to see historic inauguration 01/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 7:24pm]
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