Virginia Man Gives Away Luxury Accommodations for Inauguration Week

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Earl Stafford is giving away the ultimate political vacation. So it's no surprise that the response has been, in his words, "overwhelming."

Stafford, a Virginia businessman, has reserved $1 million worth of rooms at Washington's JW Marriott Hotel, along the Inauguration Day parade route. He plans to offer the rooms, at no charge, to disadvantaged people throughout the country so they can attend President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 celebration.

He's had hundreds of responses so far, Stafford told

"Our telephones are off the hook. Our e-mails are going crazy," he said.

Stafford now has six weeks to figure out how to distribute his three-day inauguration vacation. He's working with a bevy of organizations to identify worthy candidates seeking the opportunity to witness the historic day.

"There are a lot of people who are hurting right now, and this is just our feeble attempt to help promote unity, and help bring healing to the land," Stafford said. He said he's reaching out to the homeless, to battered women, to wounded veterans and to those who are terminally ill, as well as to those who are facing foreclosure.

The celebration is growing by the day. So far, with his own money, Stafford has reserved 300 rooms, as well as four luxury suites. He's got a reservation for the 12th-floor balcony, a heated, tented terrace that overlooks the parade route. But he's partnering with co-sponsors to host other celebrations at the hotel: a prayer breakfast, a luncheon, a "People's Inaugural Ball" and a youth ball.

He said he expects as many as 2,500 people to show up, 30 percent of whom will be underprivileged.

Stafford, who is black, said the swearing-in of America's first black president makes the occasion that much more special, but he said he pursued his plans without knowing who would be elected. He describes his family as "devout Christians" and said he was "inspired" to do something charitable for the underprivileged back in March.

He was working with another hotel in Washington when he saw an article in late October about a $1 million package being offered by the Marriott. "It just appeared to me then that that's what the Lord wanted me to do," he said.

He was the first to put his money on the table, and he secured the package. "I know it was God-inspired," he said.

Stafford, 60, is the founder of Virginia-based Universal Systems and Technology.

Erick Speight, senior sales executive at the Marriott, said the hotel is just trying to accommodate Stafford as he plans his political getaway.

"We're doing everything we can from our standing to make this a first-class, luxurious event ... for all the attendees who are coming in," Speight told

Individuals interested in Stafford's program can e-mail him at