One year ago, President Clinton and his family began their summer vacation here on Martha's Vineyard amid gloominess and presidential apologies. This year, it promises to be fun, sun and campaign money, money, money.
As several hundred well-wishers greeted the Clintons under a blue late-afternoon sky today, the atmosphere differed dramatically from last August. That's when the president embarked on his annual retreat shortly after acknowledging his "inappropriate" relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Today, the president's 53rd birthday, Hillary Rodham Clinton not only seemed comfortable and happy at his side, but she also drew much of the political spotlight to herself, thanks to her exploratory bid for New York's open U.S. Senate seat. Officially, the couple is starting a two-week vacation. But they've scheduled enough political fund-raisers for the first lady to rake in an expected $600,000 by Labor Day, said campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson.
Over the next 16 days, in three locations--Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y., and the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York--the Clintons will alternate quiet beach walks with posh parties for those willing to pay up to $1,000 to nibble lobster and help the first lady's campaign or those of other Democrats. Hillary Clinton's transformation into full-time candidate was readily apparent today at the cozy airport here, where she worked the crowd far longer than did her husband, who wandered the tarmac to talk with a few acquaintances as he held his dog, Buddy, by a red leash.
Despite the fairly busy fund-raising schedule, said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart: "I think they both just look forward to relaxing. . . . It'll be a good week of seeing friends and playing golf on the president's part."
Joined by their daughter Chelsea--who tried to thaw last year's icy vacation start by walking between her parents, hand in hand, as they left the White House--the Clintons tonight headed for a birthday party at the summer home of Washington lawyer Vernon E. Jordan. They will stay at the 20-acre estate of developer Richard Friedman, their Vineyard host for the fourth straight year.
The first round of fund-raising is scheduled for Friday in Nantucket, where the Clintons will drop by the vacation home of Connecticut real estate magnate Bob Matthews to raise money for the American Ireland Fund, which promotes better relations between Irish Catholics and Protestants. Afterward, they will attend a $1,000-per-person reception for Hillary Clinton's campaign at the home of former ambassador to Portugal Elizabeth Frawley Bagley and her husband, Smith W. Bagley, an heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune.
On Sunday, there's another $1,000-a-person party for the first lady's campaign at the Martha's Vineyard home of Frank Biondi Jr., former head of Universal Studios.
The next weekend, the Clintons are scheduled to attend four fund-raising events in the Hamptons. Two will benefit the Democratic National Committee. The other two, including one at the home of fashion designer Vera Wang, will raise money for the Democratic National Committee, the first lady's campaign and other Democratic senatorial campaigns. Those two events alone should generate about $400,000 for Hillary Clinton's campaign, Wolfson said.
The Clintons will spend the last five days of their vacation at a lakefront estate of builder Thomas McDonald in Skaneateles, N.Y., southwest of Syracuse. The stay in Skaneateles (pronounced Skinny Atlas) was added after Hillary Clinton became seriously interested in seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). The leading Republican hopeful is New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The Clintons have scheduled two fund-raisers in the area to benefit her campaign, one for $250 a person and one for $1,000, Wolfson said.
Reporters may see little, if any, of the Massachusetts and New York fund-raisers. A lone reporter will be ushered in to hear President Clinton's remarks, if he makes any, but Hillary Clinton's comments will be closed to the news media, Wolfson and White House officials said.