An inauguration for the less fortunate

Ruane writes for the Washington Post.

It was billed as the biggest, most eye-popping of the inauguration hotel packages: the JW Marriott’s $1-million “build your own ball” offer, including 300 rooms, four suites, $200,000 worth of food and drink, and a primo site overlooking the parade route.

And it was snapped up within hours of Barack Obama’s historic presidential win.

This morning, the Marriott is scheduled to announce that the buyer is a successful Virginia businessman who wants to bring to the inauguration disadvantaged people, terminally ill patients, wounded soldiers and others down on their luck.

Earl Stafford, 60, the founder of a Centreville, Va., technology company who grew up as one of 12 children of a Baptist minister, said he would provide his guests lodging, food and special access, as well as beauticians, gowns and tuxedos, if necessary.


Stafford has paid the $1 million, a spokesman said, and is prepared to spend an additional $600,000 for a breakfast, a luncheon and two balls at the hotel. Stafford said he hopes to recoup some of the $600,000 from sponsors yet to be recruited.

“We wanted to . . . bless those who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to be a part of the great celebration, the inauguration and the festivities,” Stafford said in an interview Wednesday.

Stafford said the idea was inspired by his deep religious faith and the good fortune that has come his way. The inauguration is an opportunity to remember the less fortunate and remind the nation of its traditions of benevolence, he said.

“We’ve gotten away from those core values that made America great,” he said at the headquarters of Unitech, which provides weapons simulation systems to the military. “We just need to get back to caring about one another.”

Stafford said he wants at least 30% of those staying in his rooms and participating in the events to be disadvantaged or needy in some way. The remaining percentage could be people from sponsoring foundations, contributing companies or volunteers.

He voted for Obama, and records show he contributed $4,600 to Obama’s campaign. But Stafford, a retired Air Force officer, said he does not agree with all of Obama’s positions.


Still, he concluded that Obama could win and realized that the inauguration would be “a transition in history . . . and everyone should be included.”

Stafford, who is black, said he is working with the National Urban League and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the nation’s premier black-oriented think tank, and will talk to the military services to help select people to invite.

“There’s a saying in the Bible,” Stafford said. “ ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ ”