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Illinois pols’ D.C. inaugural dance cards are full

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:50AM

Inauguration 2013 might not have quite the pizzazz of President Barack Obama’s first swearing-in, but many of Illinois’ delegation in Washington, D.C., are still fully booked this weekend.

They’re giving talks about immigration and community service. They’re painting classrooms and visiting children’s hospitals as part of service projects. They’re meeting with schoolchildren and veterans, teachers and active military from their district.

And, of course, they’re attending balls. Saturday night, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Ed Burke were among a who’s-who of Illinois politicos attending the Illinois State Society Ball.

Also there was outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the former Illinois congressman who vouched for Boeing Co.’s Dreamliner planes as safe just days before the Federal Aviation Administration ordered them grounded last week. Asked after the event if he regretted saying the planes were safe, LaHood said: “That day that I said that, they were. We’re doing a top-to-bottom review.”

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) took the stage at an event in the National Mall to speak about the National Day of Service. Duckworth, who lost her legs in battle, told the crowd there was other ways to give back without going into the military. “Only 1 percent of Americans choose to wear the uniform, but there are so many other ways to serve your country,” she said, “whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home, tutoring at a school or helping to build affordable housing.”

She urged people to volunteer at food pantries, for instance, or to donate to them. “Hunger is a very big issue for me,” Duckworth said after the event.

She said that, for a time after her father was laid off from his job, her family struggled for food, that she and her brother would eat half of their lunch at school and save the other half for dinner.

More than 100 organizations took part in charitable work Saturday, including the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

Hundreds of Illinois residents will witness some part of the inaugural events. Every member of Congress has about 200 tickets to hand out.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) has students from Naperville visiting Washington.

Duckworth gave some of her tickets to veterans and those in military service. Among them: Kevin Useni, 19, a Marine from Bloomingdale who is based at Fort Meade in Maryland.

“I didn’t get to make it last time,” Useni said of the historic 2009 inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president.

This time, when he was able to get a ticket for himself and one other person, he knew who to call — his buddy, Anthony Schullo, also 19.

“He’s an Obama fanatic,” said Useni.

Schullo, who attends North Central College in Naperville and also teaches a social science course there, did make it in 2009. “It’s big for me, so I’m pretty excited to get there,” he said. “Being a history person, it is an amazing opportunity. I get to see history at the forefront.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) delivered tickets to Alcott Elementary on Friday for a group of students to travel to Washington.

One highlight of the weekend for U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), the new congressman from the north suburban 10th Congressional District, will be a visit from students involved in the Mikva Challenge, a group that aims to get students involved in civic affairs. Former Rep. Abner Mikva, who later served as a federal appellate judge and White House counsel, once represented the 10th District.

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