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President Clinton is welcomed to Martha's Vineyard Tuesday afternoon. (Reuters)

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Enthusiasm Prevails on Martha's Vineyard

By Terry M. Neal and Pamela Ferdinand
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 19, 1998; Page A17

EDGARTOWN, Mass., Aug. 18—At 5:15 p.m. today, with the sun shining faintly behind a hazy gray cloud, President Clinton stepped off Air Force One with his wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea and dog Buddy and headed right toward a mostly enthusiastic, sometimes adoring crowd that gathered to welcome him back. It would have been like any of the Clintons' three previous trips to Martha's Vineyard for August vacations, were it not for subtle reminders from people like Jack Griffin, visiting from Springfield, Mass. "Live and let live," Griffin yelled, as he plunged to the front of the greeting line waiting for Clinton off the tarmac at the airport. "We're with ya, baby. We're with ya!"

Tamara Benton, who had watched the president's televised remarks Monday night, was also there to greet him, working her way to the front of the line and grasping Clinton's hand for a second. "Ahhh!" exclaimed the 26-year-old secretary from Edgartown, with her friends standing nearby. "He looked right at me. He's so good-looking."

Benton and Griffin were among the hundreds of people who trekked to the airport to greet Clinton and his family as they began their vacation away from the harsh spotlight of Washington, where innumerable pundits debated his future a day after he publicly admitted he had misled the country about his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

As if the most humiliating moment of his political career had not occurred just hours before, Clinton walked along the line greeting the throng of people who interrupted their day to catch a glimpse of their most famous neighbor – in an enclave filled with the rich and/or famous – for the next 12 days. But among those who came to see Clinton, there were those who were disturbed by his Monday announcement.

"I just thought it was really annoying," said Bridget Salvi, an attorney from Chicago on vacation with her husband, Joe, and their 2-year-old son. The Salvis said they voted for Clinton in the past two elections. "I mean, it seemed like he blamed everybody, the media, Ken Starr, Congress, everybody, instead of just accepting the blame for what he did."

But they seemed to be the minority. At the airport, Clinton worked the crowd for about a half hour, and many people held signs with encouraging messages such as "I support Bill" and "Welcome back Bill and Hillary." Afterward, the president retreated to the secluded Oyster Pond compound of Boston developer Richard Friedman, who has hosted the family in the past.

Clinton press secretary Michael McCurry said tonight that the president planned on spending much time with his family, which "has some healing to do." And he insisted that Clinton was more worried about the reaction of his family than the reaction of voters in the inevitable polls that began coming out today.

McCurry left open the likelihood the president would participate in some official events, perhaps out of town, next week, but aides scrapped a proposal for Clinton to travel to Philadelphia Friday so the family could have more time together first. Mostly, Clinton plans to relax by "chilling" with his family and perhaps playing golf with buddy Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who along with singer Carly Simon was there to greet the family at the airport. The president was also considering attending some sort of small, yet-unplanned get-together with friends Wednesday to celebrate his birthday.

"I think they're going to stay put for the balance of this week," McCurry said. "They are definitely looking forward to this vacation."

Elsewhere on the island today, many people said that they were looking forward to the first family's visit but that the president's troubles wouldn't be easily dismissed, even in this largely pro-Clinton enclave.

"Obviously, I'm glad that [Clinton's statement] is over for the country's sake, but it raises concerns about some of the past allegations and his truthfulness," said Bill Markowitz, 34, a furniture salesman from Annapolis, on vacation with his family. "I feel the sexual aspect of the relationship is between him and his wife . . . and to try to proceed with impeachment hearings over sexual allegations is ludicrous."

At least one Vineyard group was more than willing to give the nation's leader an "all clear": Seven young men, in ties and starched shirts, said they could forgive a presidential transgression as they waited outside the county courthouse in Edgartown to face charges of disorderly conduct and illegal alcohol possession.

"He's doing a good job as president, and I don't think his private life has anything to do with how he runs the country," said Benjamin Scrimalli, 19, from Scranton, Pa. Besides, said one of his friends, "Maybe he'll help get us off."

"I'm embarrassed to be an American, not because of the minor peccadilloes, but because our society makes so much out of nothing," said Raymond Schilcher, 50, owner of Cafe Luna in Oak Bluffs, a town on the Vineyard, and a Clinton acquaintance who helped prepare the president's 47th birthday dinner and expects to cook for him again. "The guy needs a vacation."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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