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LIers suspend plans to attend Barack Obama inauguration

Local leaders of at least two organizations have temporarily suspended plans to transport scores of members and guests to Barack Obama's inauguration due to uncertainty over how Washington officials will accommodate the estimated 1 to 2 million expected for the historic event.

"Within our membership and other organizations there was a lot of interest, or we would never have gotten into this," said Julie Dade Howard, president of the Long Island chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, a civic organization."They still haven't told us anything," said William Wheeler, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen - World War II veterans who were the first black Americans to participate in U.S. combat aviation.

The Tuskegee Airmen were offered choice seats near the inaugural podium by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, in recognition of their contribution to ending segregation in the U.S. military.

Howard and Wheeler had begun organizing bus charters, but said those plans are on hold until they can get more information about accommodations.

Committee spokeswoman Carole Forman said the roughly 200 airmen who have accepted are among about 240,000 people who were invited to the outdoor ceremony. She said the airmen and other guests would have to make their own arrangements for getting to and from their seats, or for coping with Inauguration Day temperatures that often approach freezing.

"This will not be a simple event to attend, particularly for elderly people or people with mobility issues," Forman said.

Wheeler said he has suspended plans to lease a bus for fellow airmen because it remains unclear whether arrangements can be made for getting the aging veterans - who are all in their mid-80s or older - to their seats.

Howard said she has put on hold plans to lease two buses, after about half of her roughly 65 Long Island members said they would either travel independently or stay home because of uncertainty over bus access to the city.

"People are put off by the uncertainty," Howard said.

D.C. traffic department spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc said crowded metro trains, street detours and numerous security checkpoints will make traveling in and around Washington challenging. Area hotels have been booked solid for weeks as far north as Baltimore.

Nonetheless, some Long Islanders say they are determined to attend.

Claudia Swanson, vice president of the Freeport-Roosevelt branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said plans remain on track for members to arrive in Washington at 5 a.m. aboard a chartered bus. "I don't know where we will park," she said. "We're living on the edge."

Former Hempstead Village Mayor James Garner said he has leased three cars on the 6:45 a.m. Amtrak from Penn Station to Washington D.C., Jan. 20 - with a scheduled arrival at 10:10 a.m. - and has been soliciting ridership for about 200 seats from members of about a half-dozen area churches.

"There has been a great response so far," Garner said. "But there is still room for more."

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