In a day of respite from the intense debate going on in Washington, President Clinton came to New York Monday in pursuit of money and perhaps solace and found some of both.
Making his first trip since the release of the Starr report and accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Clinton spoke to a foreign policy group and circulated at three Democratic fund-raisers, including an evening performance of "The Lion King." Among a populace long supportive of him, he was largely greeted with encouragement.In a city in which presidential visits are humdrum and often disdained for the gridlock they add to already car-choked streets, there was keener interest than usual in Clinton's itinerary in the wake of the scathing report of the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth Starr. Here was a chance to glimpse the man of the moment at the moment.
"I don't like what he did, but I'm not angry at him," said Mary Kane, a medical administrator trying to catch a view of the president as he arrived for his speech Monday morning on East 68th Street, down the block from where she works. "I'd love to see him. I'd tell him, `Good luck and I wish you well.' "
Throughout a day that the Democratic Party said raised more than $4 million, there seemed to be more affirmation than antipathy among hundreds who lined the avenues as Clinton's motorcade wound its way from a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on 68th Street and Park Avenue to the trio of fund-raisers, before a late-night return to Washington.
People pressed against police sawhorses along Park Avenue clapped and waved as he proceeded to lunch on 60th Street. There were only a handful of picketers.
"I don't think what he did was necessarily awful," said Adam Gana, a freshman at Hunter College, which is situated just across from where the president was speaking. "I think maybe he should have been a little more considerate and not lied. But I like the president. I don't think he's a bad guy. If I could get a word with him, I'd ask him about the universal health coverage rather than the stupid affairs he's had."
At his various stops, Clinton sidestepped any discussion of the Lewinsky matter. He took no questions, and when a reporter twice shouted to him whether he would accept censure from Congress, Clinton ignored him.
At a $50,000-a-couple fund-raising luncheon on Fifth Avenue, Clinton did allude to the latest events when he said, "The adversity of the moment, I think, has led us to this record turnout. Why? Because people made a decision and they thought they were needed and they stood up."
In the evening, Clinton and his wife dined with 400 people who had paid $10,000 a plate at the Supper Club, a dinner and dancing establishment on West 47th Street. The president's arrival interrupted guests trying to reach their rooms at the Hotel Edison next door. Police officers lined them up and admitted them two at a time.
Several New York politicians put in appearances at the dinner, including Mark Green, Geraldine Ferraro and Charles Schumer, the three Democratic candidates for Senate.
The donors, including an infusion of celebrities like Christie Brinkley, Roberta Flack and Kevin Spacey, applauded Hillary Clinton for a full 25 seconds. Clinton received a briefer, though equally hearty, welcome. In addressing the audience, the Clintons spoke of each other in glowing terms. Hillary Clinton said of the president, "He wakes up and worries about what he can do to help the American people."
Afterward, the Clintons watched "The Lion King" at the New Amsterdam Theater on Times Square in the company of 1,700 people who had bought tickets at prices ranging from $350 to $1,000.
In Washington Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee members were holding intense discussions over whether to release a potentially embarrassing videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony.
Republicans pushed to make it public. Democrats have opposed releasing it. White House advisers have been concerned that Republicans could use the tape in political advertisements if it were made public.
Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said the committee might meet in executive session Wednesday or Thursday to authorize quick release of the material.
But he added: "It wouldn't be fair to release portions that are more incriminating to the president than what would be more exculpatory."