Watching from home, Connecticut chats, cheers and cries

Photo of Emilie Munson
President Joe Biden reacts as he prepares to deliver his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington.

President Joe Biden reacts as he prepares to deliver his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington.

Tasos Katopodis / Associated Press

WASHINGTON — When President Joseph R. Biden finished his oath office on Wednesday, Democrats in Connecticut were on mute, but they clapped from their living rooms and typed their cheers into their Zoom call chat.

Behind her computer screen, Suzanne Benton of Ridgefield wept.

“After all we’ve been through, I’m weeping now,” Benton said after the historic event concluded. “It’s just been beautiful to hear him... I’m hopeful.”

Unable to attend the inauguration in person due to a deadly pandemic and ongoing security threats, she and other Democrats watched the historic event on television and shared the moment together — like so many others over the past year — online.

Outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., members of Congress, limited media, a few government officials, some friends and family members, three ex-presidents and vast law enforcement forces were the only groups who attended the inauguration of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in person. The Connecticut Congressional delegation packed into the rows of seats with other lawmakers, jubilant that their candidate — a man that U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro and John Larson have known for decades — was returning to the White House.

The senator slated to sit next to Sen. Chris Murphy for the inauguration didn’t show, so Murphy watched side-by-side with a young volunteer who helped prepare the event.

“She was brimming with excitement, near tears at the majesty of the day,” Murphy tweeted. “So lucky to have the chance to see the ceremony through her eyes.”

Stephen Jewett, a Democratic consultant, watched the festivities from home. He figured he and his firm probably would have been involved in organizing an inauguration event in a normal world. But he was far from bitter.

“We needed to show a sign of strength and security around the Capitol after what happened,” said Jewett, whose firm, Penn Avenue Consulting, is in Washington D.C. and Connecticut. “It’s a Secret Service-run event and that’s the way it should be.”

Fabrice Houdart, who lives in Newtown, attended the inauguration as a guest of Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. From the inaugural stands, he took in the expanse of colorful flags planted in the grass of the National Mall in place of human spectators and squinted to make out who’s who behind their masks.

“A year ago that inauguration would have looked crazy, but in 2021 it made total sense — the isolation, the military,” said Houdart, managing director at Out Leadership, a think tank that places LGBTQ people on corporate boards. “The last inauguration I went to was Obama’s and you could see millions of people on the Mall.”

Connecticut Democrats organized a Zoom watch party for people to take in the inauguration together Wednesday. Approximately 60 people attended.

“I can exhale now...” said former Bloomfield Councilwoman Jennifer Marshall-Nealy, after Biden made his first speech as president, urging unity and healing for a nation in crisis. She previously tried to get tickets to the inauguration, but even hundreds of miles away from the action, she said the watch party made her feel “right there.”

“This gives me hope that our country is going to heal,” she said.

Another would-be in-person attendee, Erick Russell, vice chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said he was emotional while watching the inauguration on Zoom.

“While he was delivering his speech it was crystal clear to me that President Biden is the perfect person to be leading our country at this moment in history,” Russell said. “It’s a time for unity, hope and truth, and President Biden’s sense of decency, idealism and character are exactly what we need to bring the country together.”

Columnist Dan Haar contributed reporting; Twitter: @emiliemunson