WASHINGTON – It’s a classic scene from every Inauguration Day: the president at the head of a table and 200 or so of the most powerful people in Washington before him, at a luncheon in his honor.
And on Monday, that classic scene will have a distinct Western New York flavor, because the president will be seated in front of a painting of Niagara Falls – Maid of the Mist included.
It’s all the doing of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the committee that’s putting together the Inauguration ceremony and the congressional lunch that will follow it.
Predictably, perhaps, Schumer planned the event in a New York State of mind. In addition to selecting the painting of the falls as the luncheon backdrop, he picked the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to perform at the Inauguration and the Eastman String Quartet to play at the luncheon, which will feature food and wine from the state.
“Western New York got the special honor of the picture,” Schumer said. “In the foreground you can actually see the Maid of the Mist, reminding people of the importance of continuing the Maid of the Mist. It will be right behind the head table, so people will see it.”
Schumer chose the painting, which belongs to the State Department, out of several scenes of the falls. Danish artist Ferdinand Richardt completed the painting in 1856, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to lend it for use at the ceremony.
Schumer sees using the painting as a great way to promote Western New York, much as he sees his role as chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies as a chance to boost the entire state.
He got the honor of planning the inaugural ceremonies because, by tradition, that role goes to the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which happens to be him.
“It’s a large job,” he said regarding the planning of an Inauguration that’s expected to draw a million people. “It’s exciting, and it makes you feel like a part of history.”
Schumer and his wife, Iris, will spend the entire day in the company of President Obama and the first lady.
Tradition has it that the president-elect has morning tea with the chairman of the inaugural committee, meaning Schumer and his wife will start their day at the White House.
From there, they will ride in the president’s limousine to the Capitol, where, thanks to Schumer, the president and first lady will have the chance to snack on Greek yogurt from New York State before the ceremony.
Then Schumer will give the first speech of the day, with the theme “Faith in America’s Future.” And while public speaking is nothing new to Schumer, he said: “I’ve been practicing a lot. I want to make sure I don’t mess that part up.”
He also doesn’t want any glitches in the planning of the ceremony itself such as the one that happened four years ago, when thousands of inaugural guests got stuck in a tunnel and never even made it to the swearing-in.
Schumer’s committee hopes to make things easier this time by closing that tunnel and creating a GPS-based smart phone app to guide guests to Inauguration events. Temporary cellphone towers have been installed nearby to bolster the bandwidth and make it easier for guests to communicate by eliminating “dead zones.” More guides will be available to assist guests.
While the Inauguration is expected to draw only about half as many people as Obama’s first swearing-in four years ago, the crowd is still likely to be huge, and tickets are scarce.
Schumer’s committee divided tickets equally among members of Congress, and he raffled off the ones allotted to New York.
In far greater demand, though, are tickets to the inaugural luncheon.
“It is probably the hottest ticket in Washington, and probably my biggest headache, because everybody wants to go,” he said.
As the rest of the inaugural visitors will be gearing up for the parade and the inaugural balls, which are organized by a separate committee, Schumer will be at the head table of a luncheon that will be sort of a formal version of the New York Farm Day that Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., hosts in the fall.
As the first course arrives, guests will enjoy a Tierce 2010 Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes. Crown maple syrup from Dutchess County will be used in a sweet potato side dish with the main entree, which will be accompanied by a Merlot from Bedell Cellars on Long Island. Dessert will feature a pie baked with apples from Columbia County, with a side of cheese from Coopers- town.
“These companies will get a real boost” from getting their products featured at the luncheon, said Schumer, who took part in the tastings that led to the menu.
Alas, not all the tastings tickled the tongue.
The chef’s preparation of a duck from New York ended up tasting, well, unpresidential. So Schumer’s committee settled on another main entree – one with a Western New York connection, if you use your imagination.
“We have bison from South Dakota,” Schumer said.