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Enthusiasm Prevails on Martha's Vineyard (Washington Post, Aug. 19)


President Vacations on Island of Friendly Indifference

By Terry M. Neal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 1998; Page A10

EDGARTOWN, Mass, Aug. 19—If Steve Rattner knew anything about President Clinton's social plans this week, he wasn't about to tell any of the dozens of reporters snooping around the island, trying to get the inside scoop on what's turning out to be one very private vacation.

Rattner, it's rumored, is having another one of his big August parties this weekend, and many of the island's fabulous and tanned plan on being there. But whether its most famous inhabitants of the moment, the president and his family, will be there is a well-guarded secret.

"I just think that's kind of private," said Rattner, a New York investment banker and Clinton friend. "Just like [Clinton] doesn't want to talk about his private life, I don't want to talk about mine either. So I don't want to say whether I'm having a party, or not having a party, or inviting him or not inviting him."

As Clinton tries to weather the most difficult time of his career, it's clear that the Vineyard is one of the most comfortable places he could be. Besides being generally Democratic, and pro-Clinton, the island is famous for its studied indifference toward the famous and the respect for privacy it shows all its citizens and visitors – even the most famous person in the world who also happens to be in the middle of the world's most publicized sex scandal.

Last year, the president celebrated his 51st birthday on the Vineyard at the Chilmark oceanfront estate of actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. About 75 people, including Carly Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Merv Griffin and Rattner, attended the event.

This year's celebration will be a much more low-key affair. Clinton will celebrate his birthday tonight with his family at the Vineyard home of first-friend and Washington lawyer Vernon E. Jordan and his wife, Ann, said Clinton spokesman Michael McCurry. The president and Jordan, who is a key figure in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation, had not been seen in public together until Jordan greeted him at the airport yesterday.

When a reporter asked at today's briefing if McCurry had any details on the birthday presents Clinton has received, McCurry – aware of how desperate the press corps is for any tidbit – quipped: "They plan to exchange gifts tonight, so that will be tomorrow's exciting news."

McCurry has said that the president's plans for the moment are to spend time with his family and that while Clinton is considering some social options, he has made no definitive plans.

In recent years, Clinton has attended parties throughout his vacation time here, and generally made himself visible, shopping and eating out at restaurants around the island. But for this trip, many residents say he should maintain a pretty low profile, even though he remains popular here.

"I think if I were in his situation, I wouldn't be strutting around town," said Lydia Smith, a retiree from Nevada, lounging on the front porch of her family's waterfront home in Oak Bluffs.

Smith's husband Bill said, as he sipped a beer, that he has no desire to see Clinton – whom he voted for in 1992, but not in 1996. He agreed that Clinton should make himself scarce. "I watched him the other night, yeah," Bill Smith said. "I can remember Nixon saying a lot of the same things, about his enemies and all."

The island was packed with visitors today, but most seemed drawn by the perfectly blue sky and moderate weather rather than the president. Susan Brooks and her 8-year-old daughter Brittany came over from a nearby island to shop at Oak Bluffs. They figured while they were here, they'd see if they could sneak a of glimpse of Clinton. A bus tour they took promised to drive by the estate of Richard Friedman, the Boston developer who is hosting the Clintons. "All we saw were some police cars and a gate and a long dirt road," she said dejectedly.

Brooks said she has voted for Clinton in the last two elections, but is a "little disappointed" in him now.

Most people interviewed said they wouldn't mind seeing the president, but don't plan on going out of their way to do so. What makes the Vineyard special, they said, is that people avoid that sort of celebrity rubbernecking.

This afternoon, Harry Whalen, 75, and his wife, who did not want to be identified, sat on their porch, sipping seltzer water and enjoying the cool breeze. Whalen scribbled a note to Clinton on a chalkboard hanging on a wall on his front porch in Oak Bluff's Church Circle. "Hey Bill, what's new?" it read.

The couple said they'd seen the Clintons during other visits here attending a Methodist church. They wondered whether he would show up again and whether his presence would reignite an argument they've been having.

"He lies," Whalen said. "I think he's the most intelligent president we've ever had," she said.

"Well then, he should be intelligent enough to resign," he said.

Like Whalen's wife, many people here did not want to be named or interviewed – or seemingly break the code of behavior. Take for instance the man sitting on a park bench outside the Dockside Marketplace in Oak Bluffs.

Did you watch the president's address the other night? "Nope."

Did you hear about it? "Yep."

Did you know the president was on the island? "Yep."

Do you care? "Nope."

Have you been invited to any of the parties? "Nope."

What's your name? "Bill."

Last name? "Just Bill."


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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