The Deeper Meaning of Real Estate

* Like many deals involving President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, their $1.7 million bid on a Chappaqua, N.Y., house last week was rife with last-minute drama--intrigue, betrayal, near-failure and ultimate success. The eleventh-hour withdrawal of former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles from his pledge to guarantee the Clintons' mortgage and Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe's impulsive move to step in and save the day raised a host of timeless philosophical issues such as the meaning of a promise and the duties of a friend. Luckily, Kathleen Sloane, the Clintons' real estate agent, was equipped to appreciate every nuance of the transaction.

"As a college student, I was very interested in process and reality and the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead," the fifty-something Sloane told us, referring to the legendary logician who taught Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University. "I wrote my senior thesis on the influence of the Upanishads on the political theory of India." Whatever.

Sloane seriously considered graduate studies in philosophy after attending Wheaton College, a women's school in Massachusetts, with classmates Liz Robbins, now a lobbyist and Clinton pal, and a student later famous as New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. But she went to work at Harper's Bazaar magazine and took up real estate after marrying Harvey Sloane, a physician who served as mayor of Louisville, Ky., in the early 1980s and D.C. health commissioner in the early '90s. As for the recent contretemps, "I don't have any philosophical point of view," Sloane discreetly told us. "It was a privilege to have represented the first family and I enjoyed every minute of it."

Clinton's Top Jocks

Now it can be revealed: President Clinton spent part of his summer vacation compiling his personal list of the top 10 American athletes of the 20th century--an assignment from TV Guide. The president--who consulted not a single pollster while making his picks, according to White House aide Dagoberto Vega--chose 1936 Olympics track star Jesse Owens for the No. 1 spot. "He wasn't just breaking records--he was breaking Hitler's myth of white superiority and proving that race has nothing to do with winning races," Clinton explained to the magazine.

The rest of Clinton's deftly diverse honor roll: 2) Willie Mays, 3) Michael Jordan, 4) Muhammad Ali, 5) Billie Jean King, 6) the 1999 Women's World Cup Soccer Team, 7) Florence Griffith Joyner, 8) Arnold Palmer, 9) Jim Thorpe and 10) Secretariat--who was a horse, of course.

"I wonder whether Secretariat had an advantage there, because he has four legs instead of two," said 55-year-old tennis great King, who phoned us yesterday from the U.S. Open. "I'm glad he got the World Cup team in there. Seems like he was wonderfully inclusive. But how great is that?" she said of her own inclusion. "It's a real honor. I'm definitely gonna write him a thank-you note."

THIS JUST IN . . .

* First Warren Beatty--and now Cybill Shepherd? We didn't print this item yesterday because we thought it was a joke. But it turns out that the 49-year-old Shepherd is "seriously considering" a presidential bid. "I asked her to think about it," her pal, L.A. lawyer and radio talk show host Gloria Allred, told us yesterday. But why Cybill? Why? Why? Why? "The number one issue for her is choice. She wants to protect the right to have a legal and safe abortion," Allred explained, adding that she'd run as either a Democrat or a third-party candidate.

* Reuters informs us from New York that rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree harassment and will enter a one-day anger management program--his sentence for beating the living daylights out of Universal Records executive Steve Stoute.

* For the first time since John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash, postponing for several weeks her July wedding to fellow filmmaker Mark Bailey, director-producer Rory Kennedy ventures into the limelight tonight to present "Epidemic Africa," her 15-minute documentary on the AIDS crisis in Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be on hand in the Senate Caucus Room. The $40,000 film, funded by the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, chronicles a recent visit by a White House delegation to Zambia, Uganda and South Africa. "A staggering number--5,500 people--die of AIDS every day in Africa," the 30-year-old Kennedy told us yesterday, but declined to say how she herself is coping seven weeks after her cousin's death.