WASHINGTON — On the evening before his inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama sped through Washington, attending a series of dinners promoting bipartisanship.
Celebratory dinners and parties were held across Washington, some by various states and some for specific causes. After chafing under eight years of President George W. Bush’s environmental policies, advocates of renewable energy gathered at a glitzy ball to celebrate the greening of the White House.
Obama's first stop was a dinner honoring Sen. John McCain, Obama's vanquished Republican opponent for the presidency. Other dinners were held for retired Gen. Colin Powell and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Obama's transition team called them "three Americans whose lifetime of public service has been enhanced by a dedication to bipartisan achievement."
Obama called McCain an American hero who set a standard of patriotism and bipartisanship for all to follow. The president-elect said they had put their campaign criticisms behind them and called for help “in making this bipartisan dinner not just an inaugural tradition, but a new way of doing the people’s business in this city.”
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At Powell's dinner, Obama praised his service to Democrats and Republicans alike. During the campaign, Powell, who served in President George W. Bush's first administration, made a late and dramatic endorsement of Obama.
Obama spoke of Powell's "quiet, remarkably consistent loyalty to a set of principles: truth, loyalty and determination."
"The lesson he's learned from his own rise is not his own greatness but his nation's greatness," he concluded, finishing a seven-minute speech.
At Biden's dinner, Obama stepped onto the stage to a deafening standing ovation.
"No matter how high he climbs, he never forgets when he came from," Obama said of the vice president-elect. "He's stared down dictators. He's spoken up for cops and firefighters that he grew up with down the street."
He ended his remarks with what became the big applause line of the night: "We'll see you tomorrow."
Obama then returned to Blair House for the night.
States hold their own parties
State balls and dinners are a traditional staple of inauguration festivities and usually play on themes back home.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, celebrating his 67th birthday, was the guest of honor at the Kentucky Blue Grass ball for 1,400 that included other celebrities, lawmakers and native Kentuckians.
The party began with a bugle call to dinner by Steve Buttleman, official bugler of the Churchill Downs race track. Buttleman said it was appropriate to salute Obama and Ali at the same time, calling Obama was the leader of the greatest nation on Earth and Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer of all time.
At Texas' Black Tie and Boots ball, actor Denzel Washington was on the program to introduce Shuttle Endeavour astronauts.
The departure of President George W. Bush is a swan song for a state that has dominated the Washington scene the past eight years. Hawaii and Illinois, the home states of President-elect Barack Obama, are now the rage.
McCain won Texas and the state is still red. But in something of a political shift, the ball featured a table of Obama souvenirs outside the main ballroom.
And boots were aplenty on the tuxedo- and gown-wearing guests.
Cecily Scott of San Antonio said she has made several inaugurations but this one was not to be missed. “I’m happy for a new administration,” Scott said. “Hopefully, this one can stay eight years as well.”
Striving for green
The Green Inaugural Ball, which drew 2,000, showed that environmentalism is glamorous again.
Obama, unlike Bush, supports stiff, mandatory reductions in the gases blamed for global warming and he wants to create millions of new “green” jobs. Environmental groups that have spent years playing defense against the Bush administration see an opportunity to push through their policies under Obama.
'The event, hosted by former Vice President and Nobel-laureate Al Gore, drew celebrities such as musicians Will.i.am and Melissa Etheridge and actor Blair Underwood, many of whom made their entrance on a moss green carpet made partly of recycled fiber.
Video: "We, the people" arrive in D.C. “We need to change the way we use energy, the way we treat the Earth,” Gore said.
John Legend, who was one of the scheduled performers, said, "I think America voted for a big green step by voting for Obama.”
The ball was one of four environmentally themed events scheduled for inauguration weekend. But it strived to be the greenest.
The food was local or organic and cooked in a kitchen nearby to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The scraps will be composted. And the ball’s contribution to global warming — known as a carbon footprint — will be canceled out by investment in renewable energy projects.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.