By and  on January 20, 2005

WASHINGTON — “Last time, it happened so quickly,” is how Marcia Jackson, wife of Alphonso Jackson, housing and urban development secretary, contrasts this week’s inaugural festivities with those marking the start of President Bush’s first term.

Four years ago, there was barely a month to plan the inauguration, since the election’s outcome wasn’t decided by the Supreme Court until five weeks after Election Day.

This time around, President Bush and his GOP loyalists are unabashedly celebrating the victory and appear undaunted by the bitter cold and phalanx of security across the city, given that it’s the first inauguration since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Two tiers of parties have the capital in a social whirl: the official events thrown by Bush’s out-of-town pals, and private festivities put together by Washington veterans and lobbyists and those who don’t want to brave the lines or crowds. But, reflecting a nation at wartime, the administration has cast the inaugural festivities as a celebration of America’s armed forces as much as of Bush’s reelection.

“People plan on having a good time,” said Jackson, while attending a pre-inaugural party Monday evening at Café Milano, sponsored by General Motors.

The party’s bipartisan hosts were Republicans Abigail Blunt, wife of Roy Blunt, house majority whip; Bush pals Elaine and Ken Cole, and Democrats Debbie Dingell, wife of influential Michigan Rep. John Dingell, and Ann and Lloyd Hand.

Bush family loyalist Jeanne Phillips, chairman of the inaugural, stopped by the party late and looked like she was catching her breath to gird for the week’s list of official events, culminating in tonight’s nine inaugural balls.

But Phillips had something else on her mind: Dallas designer Richard Brooks, who made her inaugural wardrobe on short notice.

“I found out I was chairing the inaugural in December,” said Phillips, who in 1990 postponed her wedding to throw a fund-raiser for the senior Bush’s reelection bid. “My inaugural ballgown is a black beaded chiffon with a wheat silk underlay.”

Standing nearby was First Lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff, Andi Ball, who was all smiles, although she said the inaugural is “a very bittersweet time,” since she’s soon to leave her employer after being Bush’s aide de camp for 10 years.

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