24-hour party Clintons

Still hungover from Hillary's 59th bash, 2,100 'Friends of Bill' are bracing themselves, and their wallets, for a three-day extravaganza to celebrate the President's 60th. David Usborne reports
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The Independent US

Residents on Central Park West may have noticed a bit of a kerfuffle on Thursday night with rather more black limousines than usual negotiating the turn-off to the swanky Tavern on the Green restaurant at 67th Street. A glance at their newspapers yesterday provided the explanation: Senator Hillary Clinton, husband Bill in tow, had taken over the joint to celebrate her 59th birthday.

New Yorkers are used to this kind of disruption, of course, and it's no a surprise that Hillary should use her big day to invite friends and supporters to an "intimate" dinner, nor that they were obliged to pay $1,000 a plate for the privilege. She has a campaign to pay for, after all, even if we all know that she could stay in bed watching telly for the next 10 days and still win re-election to the Senate on 7 November.

And after all, birthdays come but once a year. Never mind that our streets were more clogged than a Cheney artery when Bill held his annual Clinton Global Initiative forum at the Sheraton Hotel near Times Square last month attended by the likes of Richard Branson and Gordon Brown. In three days, he raised $7bn (£3.7bn) to help alleviate poverty and Aids around the world. For that, we can put up and shut up.

But wait. The Clintons are still not done testing our patience. Hillary is not the only one with a birthday. On 19 August, Bill, an icon of the baby-boomer generation ever since he became American President at the age of 46, had one of his own. It was the big Six-O, no less. All celebration, though, was postponed to this weekend.

If you think this means merely another thousand-bucks-a-plate dinner in Central Park this evening, you have no grasp of Mr Clinton's appetite for partying, glad-handing and, above all, raising torrents of cash for his charities. If I admit that I've not been invited to join the fun, your condolences will turn to relief on my behalf when I tell you what kind of pecuniary investment would have been involved.

The invitations - 2,100 of them - were sent out by both Chelsea, who is making a rare outing into the high-wattage celebrity world of her parents, and also by the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe. "My mother and I are planning a weekend of events to commemorate his 60th birthday," Chelsea wrote in her version. "I know that he would want you to share this milestone - so I hope you can join us in New York City this 27th October through the 29th."

The first thing you notice here are the dates (plural). This bash is set to last three days, with the first event - a cocktail reception at the newly reopened and criminally overpriced Gramercy Park Hotel (sadly, just one block from this traffic-jam-weary correspondent's abode) - last night. It will wind up at the Gramercy Park, where many of the guests have been assigned rooms, with another reception in the early hours of Monday morning. Anyone attending that one will have shown significant stamina.

Before we go further into the details of this mega-shindig (did someone say Rolling Stones?) let's get the money question out of the way. All putative attendees were informed at the outset that their minimum monetary contribution should be $60,000 - a figure that has everything to do with the number of years on Clinton's clock. But there will be elite privileges for anyone coughing up a bit more. Those with $100,000 to burn could expect a table for brunch this morning and the thrill of sharing mimosas and poached eggs with Bill and Hillary. A cheque for $500,000 (credit cards accepted) ensured platinum treatment all weekend.

The pecking order gets still more complicated. Really big FOBs - you remember that "Friends of Bill" acronym from the early days of his two terms in the White House - have also been assigned the status of "hosts" for the whole weekend. Among them, according to exhaustive research in the pages of this week's New York Observer, is Ron Burkle, a supermarket magnate from California and Daniel Abraham, the former owner of the Slim.Fast diet empire. The roster of slightly lesser "co-hosts", meanwhile, includes Steve Bing, the property heir and father of Elizabeth Hurley's young son.

The rest of the guest list is a who's who of long-time major contributors to the Democratic Party and to the Global Initiative, which is overseen by the William J Clinton Foundation, set up by the President to champion Third World causes shortly after his departure from the White House at the end of 2000. Expected to be sharing in the fun are Fed Eychaner, a Chicago media mogul, Ted Waitt, founder of Gateway computers, and Casey Wasserman, a California entertainment honcho.

The Gramercy Park scrum last night promised to be high on booze and also fine food. The hotel wasn't saying which of New York's many three-star chefs provided the eats, but its regular menu features fare from the likes of Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of Nobu fame as well as Tom Colicchio of Craft and Mario Batali of Babbo. Then, after a brief night's kip, it was on to this morning's poached-egg brunch at Pastis, a smallish faux-French bistro (French fries in metallic cones and juicy steaks) in the white-hot Meatpacking District of Manhattan (more traffic jams) owned by the British restaurateur Keith McNally.

Digestion requires a few hours of rest and recreation upstairs or at the St Regis, the other hotel assigning rooms to the assorted FOBs, before the entire guest-list descends tonight on the Museum of Natural History for a reception and dinner to last four hours. It will not be a small crowd. Anyone giving $100,000 or more has been assigned four seats at the dinner beneath the museum's gilded ceilings.

My advice to everyone, however, is to take things easy today, because this is the day before tomorrow when the Clintertainment machine goes into high gear. Heartier souls, for whom irons have nothing to do with creased shirts, should be ready to board buses for the sweeping Bayonne Golf Club in New Jersey for some rounds on the links with Bill. (Bus-averse types are welcome to make use of the club's own helicopter pad.) From there it's all the way back to Central Park, where the locale for cocktails and supper will not be the Tavern on the Green this time but the rather less exclusive Boathouse restaurant.

As far as I know, neither Mick Jagger nor Keith Richards are writing cheques this weekend, but rumour has it that the Rolling Stones will not be charging to rock the Clinton party with a special performance at the Beacon Theatre tomorrow night on Broadway in the Upper West Side. All the weekend's attendees have been invited to show up at the 2,800-seat auditorium, but the $500,000-donors will get a backstage pass to mix with the British crooners. Privacy will not be guaranteed on account of camera crews expected at the Beacon to record the night for a documentary about the current Stones Bigger Bang tour directed by Martin Scorsese.

Just to contemplate the weekend's schedule - never mind actually taking part - is to induce instant exhaustion. It is a reminder that in retirement, Bill Clinton is hardly retiring. He may have relinquished the keys to the White House six years ago (and undergone heart by-pass surgery two years ago) but he is still campaigning with all the fervour he was always famous for.

That means campaigning for Democrats across the land, for his wife up and down New York, and, more than anything, for money for his charitable causes. Take this Thursday. He began by making a star appearance at a 9am rally for a Democrat candidate for Congress in an airport hangar in Albany before flying to Syracuse for a get-out-the-vote event for Democrat hopefuls in western New York. After that he jumped back on a plane and headed for yet one more election address in Long Island. Finally, of course, it was dinner at Tavern on the Green.

Admittedly, this is a crucial time for the Democrats, who are nursing hopes of winning back control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate. Such a reversal for George Bush would be sweet revenge for Clinton, whose own legacy was half undone when mid-term elections in 1994 turned over control of Congress to the Republicans, a sea-change that led to endless investigations into his private doings, culminating in his impeachment (and subsequent acquittal in the Senate) on charges that he obstructed justice in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Even so, he apparently doesn't know when to stop. Or just doesn't want to, because he is so good at it. "One of the reasons he's such an effective campaigner is because he loves it so much," notes one Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "He has incredible enthusiasm for it and it really brings a lot of energy to everybody he campaigns for."

Energy needs fuel, however, and for Clinton that means love and approval. It is worth recalling that in the immediate aftermath of the Lewinsky affair and the close of his second term, Clinton was a figure with whom many Democrats did not want to be associated. Not least among them was Al Gore, who very deliberately kept him at arm's length in his 2000 presidential campaign against Bush - a decision some later said cost him that contest.

What a difference six years makes. Today Clinton has a wife who is unbeatable in her own state and who, as everyone knows, is on a fast gallop towards seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He is once again the most potent crowd-puller at Democrat election events across the country and he can suck up money faster than a Chevron oil rig.

The only question we might ask is when is enough enough? Even the most generous Democrats could be excused for feeling a little over-tapped by his powers of charm and persuasion. Believe it or not, the multi-part bash this weekend is not the first to have been arranged on the back of Clinton getting a bus pass. Last month, he staged a dinner for donors in Toronto, which attracted such celebrities as Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor and -acting as master of ceremonies - Kevin Spacey. That single night raised $20m, although you can be sure that the final tally of giving after this weekend will be considerably higher.

Also in Toronto, by the way, was the comedian and sometimes Oscar host, Billy Crystal, who dared to poke a little fun at what he called the "Clinton Birthday Tour" that has no end. "By the time you finish this tour you're going to be 65," Crystal joked. And, he might have added, every mogul and magnate in the land with a single Democratic bone in their bodies, will be both worn out and broke.

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