News & Politics

Inauguration Nation: The Ringmaster

The Marriott Wardman Park’s general manager, Ed Rudzinski, tells us what it’s like to helm Washington’s largest hotel during an inauguration.

Wardman Park's general manager Ed Rudzinski. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Ed Rudzinski runs the show at the Marriott Wardman Park. As the hotel’s general manager, he oversees 1,000 employees, is the liaison with Marriott’s corporate offices, and schmoozes with high-rolling guests. If the hotel were a circus, he’d be the ringmaster.

A typical day for Rudzinski is anything but typical. “The only thing you can really count on is a fire truck or ambulance showing up at some point,” he says. The week before our interview, he was greeted twice by flashing lights at the hotel’s entrance.

During the inauguration, he says, everything is heightened: security, crowds, even staff. To meet the needs of the thousands who will come through the hotel, Rudzinski will hire at least 500 temporary employees—mostly banquet servers and bartenders—and bring in a private company to oversee security.

A large part of Rudzinski’s job is cheering on his employees. He likes to challenge them by setting goals, such as checking a group in to the hotel within a certain amount of time, and then rewarding them for a job well done. This year’s inauguration, he says, makes cheerleading easy; 85 percent of his employees are union workers, and most wanted an Obama win. “There’s a built-in excitement for this,” he says.

It’s a good thing, too. The Wardman Park will host back-to-back events during the inauguration, which means that hotel staff, including Rudzinski, won’t get much downtime. Between Dionne Warwick’s 6,000-person American Music Inaugural Ball and the 4,000 high-schoolers who will be staying at the Wardman Park as part of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, the hotel will be packed almost every hour of the day for four days. Though the Wardman Park will provide cots for employees to grab a few minutes of shuteye, Rudzinski, who plans to work around the clock, will hole up in his office: “I’ve got a sofa, and I’ll bring a pillow,” he says. “I’ve got a little bathroom and a refrigerator that I’ll stock with energy drinks. My hope is that my legs don’t give out.”

Despite the long hours, Rudzinski is excited to see his staff execute months and months of intense preparations. The hotel, he says, will work like a well-oiled machine; many of his employees have been doing their jobs for decades, so there’s little they haven’t seen or dealt with before. For the veterans, there won’t be any need for clipboards, schedules, or task lists—he says everyone will know where he or she needs to be and what to do at any given moment.

“By the time the first person checks in here for the inaugural, it’s over,” he says. “The planning is 99 percent of it. By January 17, all that we’ll need to do is execute.”

Let the countdown begin.

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