Clintons aim to join the county set

If Hillary runs for the Senate next year, she and Bill will need to live in New York's posh Westchester County, writes David Usborne
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The Independent Online
SUSAN DEWILDE, estate agent to the wealthy and aspiring-to-be- wealthy, was playing the game all last week: which of the gracious homes listed in her area around Rye, on the north shore of Long Island Sound in New York's Westchester County, might be good for a couple who may be dropping in at her office at Julia B Fee Realtors one day soon? (A well- known couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton, currently of Washington DC.)

On Friday she found this, what they call a "starter mansion" around here, down close to the sea: "New Construction, Classic Brick Georgian Colonial Grace With Grand Entry, Superb Layout & Fab Amenities on 2 Acres, w/Room For Pool & Tennis Court. Opportunity to Customise". She studies photo- graphs, then allows herself a chuckle. "This could be perfect for them, but it's $5 million".

Gossiping about the Clintons has become the main sport all across New York State since it became an open secret that the First Lady has more or less made up her mind to run for a US Senate seat here in elections next year. Nowhere is the Clinton buzz louder than in Westchester, a county just to the north and west of New York City that is graced with an unusual concentration of grand estates and golf courses. This is Rockefeller country, where the limousines come when Wall Street closes and some of the fanciest folk in the land have chosen to live, such as Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, George Soros and Ralph Lauren.

It was in an interview with the CBS anchorman Dan Rather last week that Hillary Rodham Clinton committed herself to living somewhere in New York after next year, "no matter what I end up doing". (No, CBS and the White House insisted, we were not to read "marital break-up" in that personal pronoun.) Then came word that the First Lady has asked staff to find a suitable abode in Westchester.

Nobody pretends that winning the Senate race will be easy. The most likely opponent from the Republican camp is Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City, who is credited with ridding it of rampant crime, notwithstanding two scandals recently about police brutality. Most polls suggest a tight race, with the mayor just ahead of the First Lady across the state.

But the challenge of finding that perfect home for an empty-nest couple (with, shall we say, "fidelity issues") might be tougher still. Why not Manhattan itself, you might ask? Because putting the Clintons in an apartment building would present almost intractable problems. Condominium boards, which have the power to approve or reject applications for tenancy, would be almost certain to balk at the Clintons. Security would be impossible. And what about Buddy the dog? Could you have Secret Service agents trailing after him scooping his plops into little plastic bags as city laws demand?

So Westchester it will be. (Senate race considerations rule out areas of arguably even greater appeal in New Jersey and Connecticut). There are large houses with even larger grounds that will be easy to protect and, for Bill, golf courses galore. Shopping will be heaven at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, a gleaming pavilion of marble and faux-gold.

But how will they afford it? "I don't know if they could spend $5 million and, in any case, would the constituents accept it? I don't think so," observes Ms Dewilde, adding that finding houses both suitable and affordable will be hard. "You can't get much for $1 million, you really have to be closer to $2 million". Together the Clintons earned just over $500,000 last year. Bill will soon be out of a job and the salary for senators is $136,000 a year.

As for golf, Bill should pause before grabbing the irons. All the best clubs have waiting lists, like the gracious Winged Foot club a few miles from Rye. There, new members must wait 17 years and the rules would not be waived, even for a former president. Farther north, there is the new Hudson National Golf Club which has six member slots now available. Like everywhere else, however, it demands a joining fee. How much would that be? $317,000.