Every night before her latest hairdo hits the pillow, Hillary Clinton probably crams a few more facts about New York into her head. Like an immigrant studying for a citizenship test, she must prepare for the pop quiz that, were she to flunk, could hobble her nascent Senate campaign. You can almost hear Hillary reciting the names of the Five Towns or practicing a soliloquy on the gustatory wonder of Buffalo’s beef on weck. Closing her eyes, Hillary may even try to conjure the view from Montauk’s bluffs or the Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn promenade.
For her, this is the easy part. Blessed with a curious mind— and unafraid of the details— Hillary has a chameleon’s élan. As she hones her Empire State chops, perhaps Hillary, who has been known to tweak the truth, will claim to have been present when Bobby Thomson went yard or when the Beatles played Shea. As for those carpetbagging snipes, well, to her, residency is what you make of it. For a pan-American like the First Lady, where you live is more a state of mind than a matter of where you hang your hat.
But it will not be easy getting crowned Ms. New York. Because, like most tourists, Hillary carries a ton of baggage, deficiencies sure to be seized upon by presumptive Republican opponents like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or Representative Rick Lazio (not to mention the frothing Clinton jihad). In fact, when it comes to Hillary Clinton, you cannot track the scandals without a scorecard. What follows is a cheat sheet, as it were, to issues— both silly and significant— that candidate Clinton can expect to encounter, that her allies will labor to spin into oblivion, that her enemies will tirelessly exploit.
The toilet bowl rankings each Hillary Scandal is rated on the potential negative impact on her expected senate campaign. Here, in descending order of danger, is our porcelain point system:
|—Could clog pipes|
|—Bottom of the bowl|
Back To The Cattle Futures
It goes back 20 years, but Hillary’s six-figure score trading cattle futures demands an accounting. In less than a year, she saw a $1000 investment grow to nearly $100,000, a mammoth windfall considering she and her husband had a combined income of about $60,000. While claiming to have read The Wall Street Journal for investment tips, Hillary has acknowledged the aid of attorney (and commodities pro) James Blair in most of her deals. Blair was the chief attorney for Tyson Foods, one of Arkansas’s most powerful and highly regulated companies. With Blair’s guidance, Hillary began her commodities trading just weeks before her husband won election as governor in November 1978. When details of her trading emerged in 1994, critics contended that the odds of reaping such a profit in the volatile commodities market were astronomical. But it should be noted that Alfonse D’Amato, an early Hillary critic, showed similar investment acumen, once earning $37,125 in one day by flipping insider stock purchased via an IPO. The Fonz’s deal carried a similar cattlelike odor.
XXX Xmas Tree
Perhaps Hillary’s planned book on entertaining in the White House will include a chapter on Christmas decorations, specifically some interesting ornaments found on the Blue Room tree in 1994. The decorations— about which Hillary was surely unaware— apparently featured drug and sex themes, including roach clips and three French hens getting busy. While this stuff might make voters in Utica blanch, such naughty nicknacks go over big in many downstate precincts. The story loses porcelain points since it was first reported in a crappy book penned by exFBI agent Gary Aldrich, an avowed Clinton hater. The tale was also spread by Craig Shirley, a GOP operative now marshaling troops and raising money for an assault on Hillary’s expected 2000 campaign.
Though she has dismissed it as an intellectual exercise, Hillary can expect to again be derided for what journalist Bob Woodward first reported as a “seance” with Eleanor Roosevelt. At the prompting of New Age guru Jean Houston, Hillary engaged in fantasy chats with Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi, two of the First Lady’s heroes. While not on par with Nancy Reagan’s regular consultations with psychics, the Houston sessions still might unnerve more rational voters. Makes you wonder with whom Giuliani, if given the chance, would dream of carrying on a conversation. Fiorello La Guardia? Thomas Dewey? Donna Hanover?
Wearing Two Hats
Giuliani has already begun to question Hillary’s pinstripe pedigree, but her flank may actually be more exposed on a National League matter. A longtime Cubs fan, Hillary was doubtlessly cheering on that July day 30 summers ago when Tom Seaver saw his bid for a perfect game ruined with one out in the ninth inning. Tom Terrific’s masterpiece was spoiled by a flare off the bat of Cubby Jimmy Qualls, a misanthrope whose name is still cursed in thousands of New York households.
Any voter for whom a Palestinian state is a key issue will likely not be receptive to Clinton’s candidacy. Still, Hillary is hardly alone on this matter— there is growing support both here and in Israel for a two-state approach to securing peace. But that does not mean the crew at the New York Post, led by editorial page pooh-bah John “The Poddler” Podhoretz, will pass up the chance to mount a “Let’s rile up the Jews” effort. These pathetic gambits appear every fall, like the leaves turning or the air getting brisk.
Harold Ickes, The Faithful Thug
What’s not to admire about a guy who has now officially been investigated more than poverty kingpin Ramon Velez? And like the South Bronx’s sleazy Fat Man, Ickes has, so far, escaped unscathed. The resurgence of Ickes (after he was treated to the presidential shiv and hurled overboard) is, of course, driving the GOP nuts, since the former White House aide seemed to be the maypole around which most of the Clinton-gates revolved. While Lani Guinier and other unrepentant lefties sunk like deck chairs, Ickes resurfaced once Hillary began to ramp up for the 2000 race. He clings to grudges, curses up a storm, and practices a brand of brass-knuckle politics that would make his former Teamster clients blush— the perfect temperament for a New York rumble (you want Nita Lowey watching your back?). In fact, Ickes, unlike the perfidious George Stephanopoulos, offers no apologies for administration excesses like the unsavory campaign fundraising operation. In a matchup already steeped in Yankees references, Ickes is, as Reggie Jackson said of himself, the “straw that stirs the drink.” And this, of course, brings to mind what Billy Martin once said of Reggie and George Steinbrenner— “one’s a born liar, the other’s convicted”— which also carries some Campaign 2000 parallels.
It would not be a New York campaign if some Hillary opponent failed to spotlight her affiliations with radical causes, specifically during her Yale Law School days. While that “too liberal for too long” stuff may have been played out by the D’Amato-Finkelstein team, somebody will have to dredge up Hillary’s 1970 advocacy on behalf of Black Panther Bobby Seale, then on trial in New Haven for murdering a suspected snitch. (Seale was acquitted.) Might work well when Giuliani or Lazio is receiving the endorsement of some police fraternal organization.
The Health Care Disaster
Good idea, dreadful execution. Drafted amid the kind of paranoid secrecy with which Giuliani could relate, the health care plan was a titantic bust, a Hillary fiasco that surely contributed to Democratic losses in the 1994 midterm elections. In her first major legislative undertaking, the First Lady’s stridency and miscues (coupled with Republican intransigence) derailed what could have been a monumental achievement.
The Welfare Deal
While she probably should not be saddled with her husband’s mixed record, Hillary may have to answer for the White House’s cold-blooded welfare reform. Maybe she’ll buck the president on this one as she campaigns for Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s seat, but that will be a bit late. For a former board member of the Legal Services Corporation and the Children’s Defense Fund, the welfare reform package must have been repellent.
There is not much of a defense to this one, though New Yorkers are surely not as provincial as voters in Arkansas or Mississippi (burghs Jimmy Breslin calls “low IQ states”). Hillary could move into an old-law tenement on Thompson Street, shop at Balducci’s, and weekend on Coney Island, but she will never be mistaken for a New Yorker. But that is probably okay, politically speaking, since it sometimes feels as though 75 percent of the city itself comes from somewhere else. Any voter who would use residency as a litmus test probably has far more serious problems with the First Lady. Of course, most operatives who will beef about this (while downplaying the RFK and James Buckley precedents) have probably been bused in from other time zones.
Two’s A Crowd
Al D’Amato claimed last year that it would be in the state’s best interest to keep a Republican in the U.S. Senate since the chamber is controlled by the GOP. And you know where that argument got The Fonz. Expect to hear how it will be critical to have a liaison to the Trent Lotts of the world, a task Hillary could not handle. This is a nonstarter, as the consultants say.
Vince Foster’s Mysterious Demise
Since nobody— not even Richard Scaife, the far right’s Mr. Moneybags— has yet been able to place Hillary in Fort Marcy Park on the July 1993 afternoon Foster expired, she appears in the clear on this one. As for the other 56 casualties of the Clinton administration— the body count cited on several far-right Web sites— the First Lady has yet to be caught with any smoking guns or bloody gloves.
White House Travel Office Purge
Though she disavowed responsibility for sacking the White House travel office staff— holdovers from previous administrations— Hillary clearly directed the massacre, possibly with an eye toward awarding the lucrative business to a firm co-owned by Clinton family confidant Harry Thomason, the TV producer. The patronage grab was fiercely criticized, putting the Clinton forces on the defensive. They responded by claiming that the travel office personnel may have been corrupt and decided to sic the FBI on them. The imbroglio eventually triggered a General Accounting Office review, during which the First Lady told probers that she had no role in the firings. These assertions, though, were later directly contradicted by the testimony and notes of several White House advisers, proof that placed Hillary in the middle of the slimy episode. The evidence gathered by the GAO also highlighted the degree to which Hillary would try to distance herself from a messy situation— in this instance, by lying to federal officials.
Stand By Your Man
Sure, her husband’s problems have had nothing to do with his wandering eye and two-term turptitude. If it were not for those scheming right wingers— that creep Drudge, that bitch Tripp, those insane Freepers— all this would never have happened, right? While such a healthy reserve of paranoia is necessary for a New York campaign, Hillary might try to curb her tendency to blame others for the creeping rot that has overtaken her mate’s presidency. She has assiduously avoided full disclosure on a host of matters, preferring instead the shrill stonewall. As the First Enabler, she has never blinked when called upon to divert attention from her husband’s latest outrage. Perhaps it was her marital obligation. But she regularly goes above and beyond the call of this duty.
Hillary The Hotelier
They may have temporarily taken down the “Vacancy” sign outside the Lincoln Bedroom, but Hillary will have to answer for the tawdry nature of the joint White HouseDemocratic Party fundraising apparatus, a rogue operation that she will no doubt benefit from during the 2000 campaign. Riding shotgun on Bill’s forays to Hollywood and East Hampton, Hillary vigorously chased hefty campaign donations while Justice Department bosses were bottling up their own probe into the administration’s seamy cash grab. Her campaign white paper on the need for fundraising reforms should be quite amusing (and perhaps a collector’s item).
A Whitewater Primer
The grandpappy of all Clinton Scandals, the original Arkansas land deal morphed into a hillbilly hydra. When one line of inquiry died, it seemed as if two others quickly sprouted. Here are the Hillary highlights:
Friends In Low Places
The Clintons initial transaction in 1978 with Jim and Susan McDougal— the four of them borrowed $203,000— has been examined endlessly, and there is still no compelling case that they engaged in any illegality. They apparently lost money on the failed land development, a project run into the ground by Jim McDougal, a manic-depressive who screwed up every business he came near. But the Clintons lose some points for their choice of partners.
Another Jim McDougal scam, Castle Grande was an intricate financial fraud disguised as a real estate development. Designed to bilk money from Madison Guaranty, a savings and loan McDougal owned, the Castle Grande sham eventually resulted in criminal convictions for McDougal, former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, and David Hale, an exmunicipal judge (and Ken Starr witness). While neither of the Clintons invested in this swindle, Hillary had been retained by McDougal to handle some legal matters relating to his S&L. In this capacity, she drafted an option agreement that, federal investigators would later claim, was used by McDougal to deceive bank examiners. And while a report from the Resolution Trust Company cleared Hillary of any wrongdoing in the pillage of Madison Guaranty, this remains a particulalry tawdry episode since it represents her connection to the national S&L scandal that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
The Missing Billing Records
The full extent of Hillary’s Castle Grande work was not known until January 1996, when an aide discovered long-lost billing records sitting on a table in the White House quarters. Though subpoenaed two years earlier by investigators, White House lawyers claimed not to be able to locate the documents, which showed that Hillary spent about 60 hours working for Madison Guaranty over a 15-month period in 198586. Before the records appeared, she claimed that her work for McDougal’s S&L was “very limited” and told the RTC that she was not involved in the Castle Grande project. As for Hillary’s claim that she had no idea how the billing records ended up on a table in the White House residence, the proper New York response would be: “You gotta be freakin’ kidding me!”
Ken Starr’s Fantasy Indictment
Though they never pulled the trigger, Ken Starr deputies prepared a draft indictment of Hillary in late 1996, after the billing records mysteriously surfaced. (Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the independent counsel was contemplating issuing a stern report chastising the First Lady. Note: Add a toilet if Starr releases the dirt close to election day.) But this lands in the close-but-no-cigar file. Heck, it is probably a good bet that Giuliani is still drawing up these dream cases— and he left the U.S. Attorney’s office a decade ago. In fact, a search of Rudy’s coat pocket would probably turn up the fantasy RICO indictment in United States of America v. David N. Dinkins, Alfred Sharpton, and Edward I. Koch.