Trump inaugural draws South Florida attendees from outside politics

Students in Naples wave goodbye Wednesday to the Palmetto Ridge High School marching band, which will perform at the inaugural parade for President-elect Donald Trump.
Students in Naples wave goodbye Wednesday to the Palmetto Ridge High School marching band, which will perform at the inaugural parade for President-elect Donald Trump. AP

Tickets in hand for Friday’s main event — and for three nights of celebratory balls — Rachel Sapoznik packed her fur coat and boarded a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Washington on Wednesday, prepared to bundle up to experience the pomp surrounding Donald Trump’s inauguration.

She arrived to a pleasant weather surprise at the nation’s capital: “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful!” she said by phone, coat in hand.

Sapoznik, who owns an employer health-benefits company in North Miami Beach, made big plans to attend her first presidential swearing-in, starting with Wednesday night’s Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott.

South Floridians of all stripes started trickling into Washington this week ahead of Friday’s inauguration and the many festivities leading up to it.

As always, there will be a robust contingent of Republican politicians. In addition to the governor and his wife, Ann (who is hosting a tea), Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Trump’s closest allies, will be in town. So will Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes and state Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart, as well as Miami state Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, who are splitting a two-bedroom apartment they found on Airbnb. Members of Congress will be welcoming constituents to their Capitol Hill offices — in U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s case, with donuts and cafecito.

A few Democrats — Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Darren Soto of Orlando and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens — are skipping the inauguration.)

Some attendees already know how special inaugurations can be: Diaz attended President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural — and the Florida ball — as a high school student.

“It’s probably one of the coolest trips I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I’m in politics today.”

But Trump was an unusual candidate who did not cozy up to the political establishment. So while his inauguration is attracting the usual plugged-in crowd, it’s also drawing the same grassroots believers who lifted him to victory.

Among them is Sapoznik, who stressed she backed Trump early and vocally and made up her mind in November to make it to D.C.

“This is a real turning point for our country,” she said. “It’s a historical moment, to have the inauguration of a president that has never held public office. To be able to see it and witness it is something I wanted to be part of.”

Sapoznik, 56, said she told everyone she knew — clients, colleagues, friends — that she wanted to go to the inauguration. An insurance company landed her a pair of tickets. Last week, her sister gifted her a Trump inauguration beanie, inscribed with the presidential seal and “Trump-Pence” in gold lettering.

She will meet up with a friend who is traveling to the capital for the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday.

“We’re completely different in our views, and we actually did a [Facebook] post saying we can coexist — and that’s really what I’m looking to do,” she said. “The beauty of America is people have a right to their opinion. You don’t have to agree with it.”

Expecting a Hillary Clinton win, Democrats had reserved or put “courtesy holds” on scores of Washington hotel rooms and ballrooms. On Nov. 9, Republicans — including former Hialeah Councilman Evelio Medina, president of the Miami Brickell Chamber of Commerce — moved quickly to scoop up the cancellations.

Medina snagged the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center — down the street from Trump’s Washington hotel — and organized the Deplorables Inaugural Ball (general admission: $500, VIP admission: $1,000). He’s expecting at least 500 people and bringing in three bands, including one from Miami — the Saints of Havana — that will debut an original song titled, naturally, “Making America Great Again.” (There’s also a less upscale, unaffiliated soiree dubbed the “Deploraball.”)

“A Cuban American from Hialeah, Miami, is doing a major ball,” Medina said in wonder. “That usually didn’t happen before, because of the traditional party system and the lobbyists who control the Beltway.”

A chorus and dance group from King’s Academy, a private Christian school in West Palm Beach, will perform at Trump’s welcome celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday. The Marching Pride of Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples will perform at the inaugural parade. And the South Florida Youth Symphony, which is competing at the Heritage Music Festival in Washington over the weekend, will send its 24 students, ages 11-19 and in some cases from underprivileged backgrounds, to the inauguration, just to witness it.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lew Matusow, a volunteer publicist for the nonprofit whose own daughter played in the symphony when she was a child. “These kids can say, ‘I was there. I saw a president sworn in — and I didn’t see it on TV.’”

Some South Floridians will be working: The Miami-Dade County Police Department was asked to send 40 officers from its rapid deployment force, a specialized unit especially trained for crowd control, dignitary protection, active shooting scenes and bomb scares.

For one Miami native, it will be the longest working day of the year: Staff Sgt. Hiram Diaz is one of four euphonium players on “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the only musical unit to play at the swearing-in, the parade and the inaugural ball.

“We get there bright and early — I’ll be at work at about 3:45 in the morning — and we’re expected to get back home at around 11 p.m.,” said Diaz, the 31-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who was assigned the euphonium — a member of the brass family — after being “terrible” with the trumpet at Ponce de Leon Middle School in Coral Gables.

Diaz dreamed of joining the Marine Band as a 10th grader at New World School of the Arts, and now he’s an inauguration veteran: He played for President Barack Obama in 2013. His five-year anniversary with the band, coincidentally, also falls on Friday.

“The band is seated right underneath the podium where the president swears in,” he said. “You have a vantage all the way out to the Washington Monument. You can just see a sea of people.

“The spectacle, the peaceful transition of power — it’s just amazing.”

Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.