At Illinois celebration, a taste of home

Illinois celebrated the second inaugural for President Obama Saturday with a hefty dose of home-state pride.

The Illinois State Society’s ball at the Renaissance Hotel featured a bipartisan cadre of politicians along with the flavor of Illinois, as the state celebrated its former senator's second inaugural weekend.

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Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) and the president’s first chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, all made appearances at the event, as well as roughly a dozen House members from both parties.

During Obama’s first inauguration, Emanuel was gearing up to become his chief of staff. This time around, he said he’s not looking to try and make it back to Washington after Obama’s second term.

“No, none at all,” he told The Hill when asked whether he harbors any 2016 presidential ambitions. “I love my job.”

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, was awarded the “Outstanding Illinoisans Award” at the gala.

As one of the Republicans Obama named to his Cabinet in 2009, LaHood praised the president for wanting to work in a bipartisan manner, something many other Republicans might take issue with.

“I hope you are as proud as I am of our president from Illinois who came here to get things done,” LaHood told the ballroom crowd.

The Illinois ball, which featured the Radio King Orchestra — a band that played at the fictional President Josiah Bartlett’s inaugural on “The West Wing” — had plenty of Illinois flare. There was a silent auction with autographed memorabilia from Chicago sports stars like Walter Payton and Jalen Rose, and food that included Uno’s Pizza in the “Route 66” room and the “Illinois State Fair” table with corn dogs and frozen Kefir.

Illinois lawmakers were happy to take in the festivities.

Durbin, who served with Obama in the Senate until 2009, said that while the president’s second inaugural may not have the same historic impact as the first, it would still be an event that attracts attention across the globe.

“Of course it’s different, but it’s still one of the few events in history that you can really witness and be part of that makes such a dramatic difference, not only for the United States but the world,” Durbin said. “I’m looking forward to it — I just hope it’s a little warmer than last time.”

Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a double-amputee Iraq War veteran, often had a crowd surrounding her, along with her husband Army National Guard Maj. Bryan Bowlsbey.

“This is old home week here, this is all my friends and folks here,” said Duckworth, who was at the 2009 inauguration as an assistant secretary. “I’m just going to try to make sure and say ‘hi’ to as many people and thank them.”

While inauguration weekend is more of a celebration for Democrats, there were some Republicans in town for the party, too.

Freshman Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said he’s been in here for every inaugural since 2000, but this was his first as a congressman.

It has some perks, as he learned Saturday.

“I forgot my ticket — I got in without my ticket, so that was different,” Davis said.

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