The Clinton house hunt intensified yesterday with President Clinton joining first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to view suburban New York properties for the first time in preparation for her likely Senate bid in New York next year and his retirement from office two months later.
Interrupting a weekend at Camp David, they flew on a small Air Force jet to suburban Westchester County with their daughter, Chelsea, and Dorothy Rodham, the first lady's mother, to view several properties that had been screened by Hillary Clinton and presumably approved by the Secret Service, which has made security a key element of the house hunt.
Among the five properties they saw was a seven-bedroom, $1.7 million house on 2 1/2 acres in the Greenburgh hamlet of Edgemont, walking distance from Scarsdale. Hillary Clinton viewed the house last week at the close of the latest round of her exploratory Senate campaign's "listening tour" of New York.
Some local residents were surprised at the Clinton interest in the Edgemont house. Although it is shielded from view by trees, its driveway empties onto a busy thoroughfare. Edgemont, while exclusive, does not carry the cachet of nearby Scarsdale, where home prices are far higher. Greenburgh, said one Westchester observer last week, "is not 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.' "
The Clintons also viewed a 4.14-acre estate in Rye Brook, close to the Connecticut border, which reportedly is priced at $2.29 million. According to the few White House reporters who traveled with them, the Clintons also viewed homes in South Salem, New Rochelle and Mamaroneck.
Westchester County, the affluent suburb just north of the Bronx, has become the focal point of the Clinton house search, the first lady's office said last week. Home to an array of corporate executives who commute to Manhattan or who work in the many Fortune 500 companies based in the suburban county, Westchester also is known for being a political pivot in New York state. In the past 20 years in statewide politics, those who have won Westchester also have won the state. And it has many courses for the golfing president.
Clinton has not yet formally announced her Senate bid, but she has been acting very much like a candidate in keeping herself in the public eye in what has become a running dialogue with New Yorkers in diverse parts of the state. She faces criticism from some New Yorkers, chiefly supporters of New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, that she is a "carpetbagger" because she is seeking elected office in a state where she has never lived or worked. Giuliani, who also has made no official announcement of his candidacy, is expected to be Clinton's Republican opponent in the race for the Senate seat being vacated next year by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
For her Senate bid, Clinton needs to have New York residency by Election Day in November 2000, but she is seeking it sooner rather than later.
Kathy Sloan, the real estate broker who has been advising Clinton, said last week that several properties were under consideration. But neither she nor others involved with the Clintons would say how close the couple is to a final selection or bid.
White House spokesman Barry Toiv said the Clintons, who headed back to Camp David last evening, are "going to be considering their options." He would not say whether they made an offer on any of the properties.
How they would finance a house deal also is unknown. The couple's income last year was just over $500,000, but they are saddled with multimillion-dollar legal debt from the many probes that have dogged their public life. In comments to reporters last month, Clinton suggested that renting was an option.
CAPTION: A neighborly Hillary Clinton reaches out to greet a well-wisher during a Westchester County home-shopping excursion with her family.