Behind the Open Door, an Exercise in Politics
WASHINGTON — With his short dreadlocks and crisp new suit, Shea Pierre, 16 and an aspiring pianist from outside New Orleans, looked nervous as he walked into the White House last week. Inside, the East Room had been transformed into a concert hall with colored lighting and a seat for Mr. Pierre right behind the president of the United States.

For the next 60 minutes, Mr. Pierre and 150 music lovers — industry executives, students and educators along with cabinet members and senators — rocked to the sounds of a star-studded Stevie Wonder tribute, featuring Mr. Wonder himself, who belted out “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” the Obama campaign theme song.

The televised concert was part of an effort by President Obama and his wife, Michelle, to throw open the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Students, teachers, chefs, community leaders, labor organizers, mayors, governors, sports celebrities, musical icons — all have been guests of the Obamas since they moved in six weeks ago.

The burst of entertaining is giving the new White House a far livelier feel than during the twilight of the Bush administration, when more people were demonstrating outside than boogieing inside. But Mr. Obama’s open-door policy is not just fun and frivolity; it is an exercise in presidential image-making to advance his political agenda, while also carefully nurturing an identity for a first family that embodies racial history, youth and a stylistic shift in leadership.

“I think they get it, when it comes to understanding the importance of the White House, that there are no boundaries in utilizing the people’s house to enhance projects that are important to you,” said Sig Rogich, a Republican media consultant who advised Ronald Reagan. “I think it’s smart.”

When the nation’s mayors held their annual conference in Washington, Mr. Obama — aware of their critical role in spending stimulus money — invited them all in, a break with President George W. Bush’s practice of having a few in at a time. “I appreciated that,” said Mayor Pat McCrory of Charlotte, N.C., a Republican, who described Mr. Bush’s interactions with mayors as “fairly tense.”

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