In the second week of her "listening tour" in New York, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped her cagey stance toward the media today and spoke publicly for the first time about her house hunt in the state where she hopes to be a senator.
"I'm considering everywhere," she said in response to a question of whether she was looking on Long Island. "I've seen some places myself. I've had a lot of brochures, videos, descriptions sent to me. I've had friends who have gone and looked at places and reported to me."
Clinton's comments on a windswept Atlantic Ocean boardwalk along Jones Beach, a popular sun spot on Long Island for New Yorkers, were a rare unscripted event in a tightly choreographed tour intended to allow her to listen to New Yorkers' concerns. Today, in addition to her beach visit for lunch with the treasurer of her exploratory committee, she conducted a 90-minute listening forum in Westchester County, one of the most affluent counties in the nation and a possible region for the Clintons' new home.
She listened but also spoke in detail on issues such as education and welfare reform. Far more than her listening to them, New Yorkers these days are doing a lot of listening to Clinton in what clearly is an effort to give New Yorkers a chance to learn more about this would-be candidate who hails from Washington via Arkansas and Illinois.
Clinton, who has never held elective office or resided in this state, established an exploratory committee last week as a first step in her likely run for the Senate seat to be vacated next year by the retiring veteran Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D). In this unprecedented exploration of a political run by a sitting first lady, the last steps are an official announcement of her candidacy and a home to establish residency.
New York has been awash with rumors and anonymously sourced news stories for weeks on the Clinton house search. Clinton said today that she has not yet found a house, but jokingly reached out for help from those within earshot, saying, "I'm taking any suggestions, ideas, recommendations. Anybody have any neighbors that are moving shortly?
"I'm very serious about trying to find a place," she said. "It's just a lot more complicated than I thought it would be because I have to worry about security and other matters that I wouldn't have to worry about under other circumstances. . . . I'm having a good time looking."
Clinton's chattiness about her house search contrasts with the wariness with which she handles questions that touch on the personal or controversial. Though it has gone largely unspoken on her "listening tour," she is making a bold political move out of her husband's shadow at a time when the couple's lives have been dogged by investigations and controversies, culminating in the impeachment of her husband and the cementing of her image as a wife done wrong. Asked last week about the impact of that perception on her political career, Clinton did not answer.
Her GOP critics have portrayed her as an intruding opportunist. Over the weekend, New York Gov. George Pataki (R) said Clinton's potential Senate race was part of her "cockamamie national agenda."
Clinton, who enjoys celebrity status as a first lady -- and one whom many New Yorkers seem to like -- shot back at Pataki today with criticism of his state's budget impasse, reminding her listening audience that New York has been technically without a budget since April 1.