Almost-candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton continued her almost-campaign in Manhattan today, taking a veiled shot at a potential rival during a commencement speech, pledging to work to guarantee a "living wage" during a luncheon with labor leaders, and once again whetting the appetites of New York Democrats without promising to run for Senate.
"I will have something to say about [the Senate race] later," Clinton said with a broad smile during her one brief brush with reporters. "Not today."
Sources close to the first lady say she is almost certain to run in 2000; she apparently intends to announce the formation of an exploratory committee early next month. The sources expect her to disclose her plans sometime this week to Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who has said she will run for Senate if Clinton passes up the race. On the not-quite-campaign-trail today, Democratic insiders who watched Clinton obviously enjoying the media furor over her political future were unanimous in their guesswork: They think she's running.
"It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck," said Rockland County Democratic Chairman Paul Adler. "I think this might be a duck."
"Women's intuition?" replied Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), when asked if Clinton would run. "Yes."
Clinton began her day at the City College of New York graduation, calling for tougher educational standards, more resources for early childhood education and a renewed campaign to rebuild dilapidated schools. As students shouted "Run, Hillary, Run," Clinton also dropped a subtle reference to an ongoing public feud between Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), who is also considering a Senate run, and his schools chancellor, Rudy Crew. "We can do this if instead of pointing fingers we roll up our sleeves and pledge to work together," she said.
Clinton never mentioned Giuliani by name, but she seemed to distance herself from his sharp criticisms of the city's public education system, such as his proposal to abolish the Board of Education. "We can never lift up our public schools by tearing them down," she said.
Next, Clinton stopped for a $500-a-plate union fund-raiser for the state Democratic committee at Tavern on the Green, where she worked the small crowd like a seasoned pol, glad-handing officials from Elmira and laughing at everyone's jokes. "She gets closer and closer and closer," said state committee chairwoman Judith Hope, as the crowd broke into cheers. "And we get more and more and more excited."
At the luncheon, Clinton emphasized her commitment to several liberal ideals: quality education for all children, health care for all Americans and a living wage that would bring every full-time worker above the poverty line. "That is an unfinished piece of business in this country," she said. "I pledge that I will work to make that happen."
It sure sounded like candidate-talk. Some insiders still caution that Clinton could change her mind, that she may suddenly decide that running for office in a state where she's never lived while her husband is leading a war effort is just too weird. But other veteran New York politicians believe it's all over but the announcement. City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998, said Clinton has interviewed several of his campaign aides, including fund-raiser Gabrielle Fialkoff and spokesman David Doak.
"I say she's running," Vallone said. "That's just the way it looks to me."
Clinton finished her day with a Manhattan fund-raiser for Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney.
Next week, she's going to Binghamton.
CAPTION: Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton team up at Democratic fund-raiser.
CAPTION: Commencement speaker Clinton poses with student at City College of New York graduation.