Mrs. Clinton's Neighborhood

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2000

Sherry Kronenfeld is sitting in the Chappaqua Restaurant & Cafe, fielding questions about Bill and Hillary Clinton, the newest luminaries of Chappaqua, N.Y., a leafy and very affluent community about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan.

She seems amused that a visitor like me might assume she cares one way or the other that the president of the United States and his wife, quite possibly the state's next U.S. senator, recently had become neighbors.

"I don't want to sound like we're so great or anything," Kronenfeld said, dropping her voice and raising her eyebrows. "But [my friends] are very successful, happy people. They're not bringing us anything. It's not like we needed them or anyone else to validate us."

Kronenfeld shrugs. She is apparently oblivious to the fact that she and her two daughters are sitting in the very booth where the Clintons presided over an omelet and coffee recently. (The signed $15.15 bill for that meal, along with photos of the Clintons and a newspaper article, now hang in a frame above the Presidential Table.)

It was just the sort of spot I'd driven almost an hour from Manhattan's Upper West Side to see. After hearing for weeks about the Clintons' move to Chappaqua, a hamlet in the Westchester County town of New Castle, I decided to take stock of the place. Search for a glimpse of the Clintons' life after the White House. Perhaps find a little modest history in the making.

Mostly, I wanted to catch sight of the first couple.

I'm not surprised that the Clintons decided to move to Chappaqua. It's a lovely place. And despite the sometimes defensive residents, I'd even recommend the place as a day trip for visitors to New York City, especially for those in search of a high-profile sighting.

The area is rich in history. The town of New Castle was established in 1791. Quakers settled in the area even before that. Not far from the Clintons' home is a Quaker meeting house that served as a hospital during the Revolutionary War, and historic houses, barns and stone walls can be found throughout the area.

More than 17,000 people live in New Castle. Chappaqua, one of the town's two hamlets, is a commuter enclave much like Great Falls, only farther out from the city. It's easy to get to, about an hour north of Manhattan by car or via the Harlem Line of the Metro-North commuter train, which stops right in the hamlet.

My ride out to Chappaqua was a breeze, considering that driving in New York sometimes seems like an audition for a Mad Max movie. The city's mayhem gave way to suburban sprawl and then, on the approach to the village, to rock walls, narrow tree-lined roads and porch-skirted houses.

I found a pint-size downtown area, complete with pubs, restaurants, boutiques and shops. You could walk the two miles or so to the Clintons' house, just a few minutes away by car, but you'd have to do so along a busy roadway with no sidewalks.

The burnished appearance of the neighborhood is no accident. These folks are loaded, and they like things just so. The average household income is more than $228,000, with about one in 10 households earning a half-million or more. And it shows. The vehicles of choice for grocery shopping seem to be Range Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes. Some of the less fortunate drive Lexus sedans.

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