President Clinton today asked his home state's business community to chip in toward his dream of building a $125 million presidential library that he said he wants to be "a museum, but not a mausoleum."
Clinton, who was keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, made his pitch at the end of remarks in which he touted his presidency's achievements and repeatedly thanked the people of Arkansas for nurturing his political career.
The president appeared to be trying to convince skeptics that both he and Little Rock deserve the library. Just before launching into his pitch, Clinton pointedly thanked the city's mayor and other officials, who have come under fire for using tax dollars to acquire the library's 26-acre riverfront site.
"I'm sorry for all the heat you've taken, but it will be a good investment," the president said.
Like other presidential libraries around the country, Clinton's facility will be a repository for his papers and other historical documents relating to his two-term presidency. Unlike most other presidential libraries, Clinton's also may include an apartment for him and his family when they are in town.
Clinton and those helping him raise money for the library have kept specific plans close to the vest and have not released the names of individuals and corporations that have reportedly contributed more than $20 million to the effort.
The president told about 2,000 chamber members who attended the breakfast meeting that he sees the library as a way to "give something back to this state and this community that has given so much to me."
A wistful strain ran through Clinton's remarks as he recalled announcing his bid for the presidency on the steps of the Old State House in 1991. But he also vowed to "devote every waking minute of the last 14 months of my presidency" to an agenda that includes shoring up government programs for the country's aging population, continuing the economic growth that has buoyed his presidency through its mishaps and making sure the booming economy is felt in rural areas such as the Arkansas Delta.
After leaving Little Rock, Clinton traveled to West Memphis, Ark., where he announced an initiative to spur economic activity in this poor region. The president wants to help local officials improve transportation, education, job training and health care to better prepare their areas to compete for business investors. Clinton said he will propose more than $110 million in aid in next year's federal budget.
That's almost as much as he is proposing to spend on his presidential library. "I am determined that it will be, first, a beautiful place," Clinton told the Little Rock chamber.
Clinton described a facility where he could continue to work on the issues he has tackled during the past seven years. He talked about a training program to teach people how to quell racial and ethnic tensions around the globe, a fellowship program for young business people who want to see how government works, and an interactive history museum for children.
"I want this to be a museum, but not a mausoleum," Clinton said. "I want it to be a place with a lot of touch and involvement and learning."
On tables around the hall at the Statehouse Convention Center, color brochures trumpeted Clinton's achievements and announced the proposed library. The brochures were prepared by the William J. Clinton Foundation, headed by Skip Rutherford, a Little Rock public relations executive and longtime Clinton supporter.
Jim Dailey, Little Rock's mayor, believes the project will help ignite development along the Arkansas River. But he acknowledged that he and city officials have been criticized for spending at least $11 million to assemble and prepare the 26-acre site, a largely abandoned industrial area.
"Some of it was those who are just opposed to Clinton in general or those who are opposed to using city money to fund any part of it," Dailey said. The mayor said officials also ran into opposition over a proposal to rename Markham Street, a major thoroughfare, in Clinton's honor. Dailey said officials are now looking at renaming just a portion of the street.