First priority at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a new basketball court

Thu, Nov 6, 2008, 00:00

The first priority for the new president, naturally, will be the court. Not the supreme court, but the basketball court.

Where President Eisenhower put a putting green and Nixon a bowling alley, Barack Obama told Sports Illustratedmagazine last month that he would like to install a basketball court in the White House.

But when Obama, the country's first black president, and his family take possession of the building idolised by Americans as a symbol of democratic freedom, they will not only be turning it into their family home but transforming its international political image.

The White House was built on the forced labour of black slaves; their owners were paid $5 a month. George Washington, the first US president, brought nine bonded servants to the federal capital; several escaped.

One of the president-elect's first pledges was to his daughters, aged seven and 10. "Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much," he declared, "you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House." Like any parents moving house, Barack and Michelle Obama will have to decide where their children will go to school.

The girls will be the youngest inhabitants of the White House since nineyear- old Amy Carter in 1977.

Every aspect of their domestic arrangements will be the subject of intense scrutiny. The new puppy might like to note that Socks, the black and white cat who accompanied the Clintons on their journey from Arkansas to Washington, became a media celebrity in his own right.

Bush's White House administration has already formed a 14-member transition council to coordinate everything from passing over domestic security duties to helping the new team find parking.

It will offer Obama's aides briefings and a suggested schedule.

One of the priorities will be security for the president and his family. For the next four years and beyond, Obama will be followed everywhere he goes by the secret service. As the first African-American to be elected president, Obama is likely to face unprecedented threats to his life.

Michelle Obama (44), a former corporate lawyer and Harvard graduate, has said her priority as first lady will be her role as "mom-in-chief" to the couple's two daughters. She says she does not want a policy role.

How much of the White House they will be allowed to roam around and which rooms they may redecorate according to personal tastes will be explained to them in the coming weeks.

Soon after election day, the president-elect and his wife are invited for a meeting.

"As part of this, the outgoing first lady usually gives the incoming first lady a tour and talks about the spaces and how they use them," William Allman, White House chief curator, told the Philadelphia Inquirerlast month.

Books prepared by the "chief usher" list the available furnishings from more than 40,000 pieces in the White House collection. "They also ask if they would prefer an antique bed or just a queen-size modern bed," Allman explained.

And should he feel hungry at any time, President Obama can call on one of the five full-time chefs. - ( Guardian Service)