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Thousands gather in Harrisburg for Rendell inaugural festivities

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A big and glitzy ball with everything from Philadelphia cheesesteaks to chilled shrimp capped a long day of inaugural festivities as Ed Rendell, growing hoarse, went late into the night to thank throngs of well-wishers hoping for a photograph with the newly sworn-in governor.
“Thank you all for two years of help … ,” Rendell told thousands of people who paid $50 each to attend a five-hour nighttime concert and ball. “We won an election and the opportunity to do great things. I am bound and determined to do those great things without flinching.”
Even after the earlier concert finished and Sha Na Na took the stage to entertain an expected 9,500 attendees at the ball who were eating and drinking, crowds of supporters swarmed around Rendell. Some, unable to get close, held cameras above their heads and snapped photographs at a distance to catch the former Philadelphia mayor on film.
Above them, the words “A New Pennsylvania” were projected on immense white fabric screens while the Pennsylvania Farm Show exhibition hall was engulfed with the sounds of rock standards and oldies like “Willie and the Hand Jive.”
The daylong inaugural celebration cost about $3 million and was paid for by donations and ticket revenue, Rendell said.
According to the inauguration committee, the biggest givers included telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon; organized labor groups representing public employees and electricians; electricity companies Duquesne Power & Light, PECO Energy and its parent, Exelon; casino giant Park Place Entertainment, owner of Caesars Palace; cable giant Comcast; and Unisys, Deloitte Consulting, and law firm Buchanon Ingersoll.
G. Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Millersville University who attended, said that Rendell’s inaugural concert and ball was bigger, louder, and glitzier than any gubernatorial inauguration party in Pennsylvania in decades.
“There’s no comparison in terms of the diversity and the quality of the entertainment,” Madonna said. “This is a world-class event and this is Ed’s style.”
About 70 restaurants and food and beverage companies provided the refreshments, which included a smorgasbord of Pennsylvania delicacies — such as Tastykakes, Hershey’s chocolate, and Philadelphia cheesesteaks — and fine foods like shrimp, crab, and salmon.
A two-hour concert before the ball included comedian David Brenner, a brass band led by songwriter and producer David Foster, and performers Sister Sledge, Chubby Checker, and Chuck Berry, each of whom Rendell has befriended at one point or another.
Rendell was introduced to the sounds of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and the concert closed with Nina Whitaker’s rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Brenner, a Philadelphia native, ribbed Rendell over the common Republican complaint about voting fraud by Democrats in the city’s wards, saying that if Rendell ever ran for president, “he’s got all three of my votes in South Philly.”
In the middle of the show, Keith Pierce of Philadelphia responded to Foster’s call for a volunteer to take the stage and sing, then earned a standing ovation from the crowd with his performance of “Unchained Melody.”
People came from all over.
Smita Shah, a 29-year-old structural engineer, came from Chicago. Schoolteachers Johnny Harris, 53, and his wife, Dorothy, drove five hours from Erie to attend their first inaugural ball.
“We’re in favor of all of his plans for public schools and children in public education,” Johnny Harris said.
Steve Forgue, 49, a United Parcel Service district manager from Harrisburg, led a slew of company employees on a weekend junket at the inauguration in an effort to make contacts with the new administration.
Republican officials were nowhere to be seen.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, who skipped former Gov. Tom Ridge’s two inaugural celebrations in 1995 and 1999, said Rendell could look forward to tough negotiations and compromise with a Republican-dominated Legislature in his new home.
“I don’t think there’s a better negotiator than Ed Rendell,” Holden said. “He sticks to his guns and he showed that in Philadelphia.”