Buy one, get one free?
They have not elected her, but already New Yorkers want to know:
Can Hillary Clinton deliver?
By Karen Tumulty/TIME
September 6, 1999
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EDT (1417 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- Usually voters wait for a candidate to get elected before they
start demanding favors. Then again, most would-be officeholders
don't share a home with the President of the U.S. And with this
President a lame duck, interest groups and activists have lately
decided that Hillary, the aspiring Senator from New York, is the
Clinton to go to in the White House.
But it barely matters whether she can actually persuade her
husband to satisfy these groups. In politics, where perceptions
can mean more than facts, people have come to believe in the
two-for-the-price-of-one slogan the Clintons once advertised.
That's why one Clinton's budding Senate candidacy has already
created some awkward moments for the other. Take the furor over
his clemency offer to 16 members of the Puerto Rican group known
as the faln. Hillary has insisted that she had "no involvement in
or prior knowledge of" her husband's decision. And on Saturday
she even appeared to rebuke the President with a terse written
statement urging him to withdraw the offer because the terrorists
had not met Clinton's condition of renouncing violence. "It's
been three weeks and their silence speaks volumes. I believe the
offer of clemency should be withdrawn," she said. But before she
could get any political mileage from this rebuke, the White House
made clear that Clinton himself had sent the same message in a
letter to their lawyers the day before, saying they had until
this Friday to meet his terms. Even by the Clintons' marital
standards, this was a strange one: two formidable politicians
trying to prove their toughness and leaving people to wonder who
outmaneuvered whom. "I don't know if she knew about the letter,"
said White House counsel office spokesman Jim Kennedy. "I know we
didn't know about her statement."
It is possible that the sidelined President, in an effort to make
his political talents useful, thought he was actually helping his
wife by offering the clemency deal in the first place; the White
House never really produced a convincing explanation why Clinton
acted now on such a long-standing question, particularly over the
unanimous objection of federal law-enforcement agencies.
What is clear, and what her would-be constituents certainly
understand, is that Hillary's value to them will never be greater
than it is now. For even if she wins, it is hard to imagine a
junior Senator having nearly the clout of an ambitious candidate
who happens to have the President's ear.
That is why the first signs that Hillary was being pressed into
constituent service before Election Day surfaced as early as
July. She showed up at a White House meeting on federal aid to
New York's teaching hospitals called by one of the state's
sitting Senators, Chuck Schumer. There, as Schumer put it, she
"chimed in." Then last week, some pro-Israeli activists publicly
urged her to seek the freedom of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
And G.O.P. Congressman Thomas Reynolds wants her to take on the
Justice Department over Cayuga Indian claims in the Finger Lakes
area. Meanwhile, she has not heard the last from Puerto Rico: its
New York allies are asking the First Lady to weigh in on a
half-century-long dispute over Navy bombardment of a tiny island
off the commonwealth's east coast.
Critics will be looking for signs of her influence as the
Commander in Chief considers the plight of Puerto Rico's Vieques
Island. Navy Secretary Richard Danzig says the live-ammo range
there is "an important and irreplaceable site," vital to assuring
Navy and Marine combat effectiveness. But after two stray 500-lb.
bombs killed a security guard and injured four other civilians
last April, the island's 9,300 residents declared that they had
had enough. Nowhere have they found more sympathy than in New
York, a city that has one-quarter the number of Puerto Ricans
that Puerto Rico has.
Those pressing the First Lady insist it is perfectly
appropriate. "If she is going to be the next U.S. Senator from
New York, people are going to be looking to her for leadership
on a whole array of issues," says Dennis Rivera, head of the
hospital-workers union and one of her most influential backers.
And where she leads, should they expect her husband to follow?
Why not? It was the Clintons themselves who once boasted, "Buy
one, get one free." --With reporting by Jay
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Cover Date: September 13, 1999