Gilroy GOP campaigner joins in inaugural festivities

Mark Zappa joined thousands of people on the steps of the

Mark Zappa joins thousands at nation’s Capitol to witness
President George Bush’s addres
Gilroy – Local GOP campaigner Mark Zappa stepped into the thick of the national debate Thursday, joining thousands of people on the steps of the nation’s Capitol for President George Bush’s second inaugural address as thousands of others spent the day on the fringes in protest.

“It was awesome,” said Zappa, who headed the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign in Gilroy and most other parts of Santa Clara County. “I was in the nosebleed seats but it was just phenomenal. The place was packed wall to wall. To be in the presence of all that history – the Supreme Court, the Capitol, the Washington Monument … It was pretty awe-inspiring for me.”

Thousands of protesters – some burning flags – thronged the nation’s capitol as President Bush took his second oath of office. His 20-minute speech focused on spreading democracy and freedom.

“He said that we need to fight for freedom not just here but all over the world,” Zappa said. “It’s a natural born tendency of people to want to be free. It was an obvious reference to Iraq. I actually thought it was a very upbeat speech. One of his best that I heard. It was a unifying type speech, trying to reach out to the other side. I heard some yelling off in the distance – I think they were quickly squelched.”

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80 years old and frail with thyroid cancer, administered the oath of office in his first public appearance in three months – a gesture Bush called “incredibly moving.” Rehnquist’s ill health may give the president a second-term opportunity to nominate the Supreme Court’s first new justice in nearly 11 years.

It was the first inauguration since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the capital was enveloped in a security blanket of thousands of police and miles of metal barricades. Snipers lined rooftops, while bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled below.

“I’ve never seen so many police officers, secret service workers, FBI,” said Zappa, who has served in the military and law enforcement. “The security was quite intense. I must have gone through everything short of a body-cavity search. It’s very very thorough. They don’t take any chances.”

While the inauguration ceremony was free, most people had to pay at least $150 to attend one of the scores of galas around Washington. Zappa received two free invites for his campaign efforts.

Wednesday night, Zappa attended the Celebration of Freedom fireworks spectacle on the White House ellipse. The chants of a divided nation could be heard even during the performance of Ruben Studdard, a winner of the hit television show “American Idol.”

“There were tons of protesters but they kept them at least five or six blocks away,” Zappa said. “They’re pretty venomous – really in your face, obnoxious. I believe in free speech, but you have to do it with some dignity.”

Thursday night Zappa attended the Democracy Ball – commonly referred to as the California Ball.

Zappa was recently reappointed to the California Republican Party by Congressman Richard Pombo (District 11), whose office issued Zappa a pass to explore the Capitol building today.

On Saturday, he planned to take a tour of the nation’s landmarks – the Supreme Court, The Capitol, the Word War II Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial, where his cousin’s name is inscribed.

Serdar Tumgoren covers City Hall for The Dispatch.

He can be reached at 847-7109 or [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.