Two United Van Lines trucks rolled through the winding, moneyed lanes of the Westchester County hamlet of Chappaqua today and pulled up a gravel drive to a white house. It was a seemingly typical move on a seemingly typical day, except for the 10 TV cameras, the more than 30 reporters, the bomb-sniffing dog, the complaining neighbors, the jittery local police and the Secret Service contingent that did all it could to uphold a zone of privacy around every tiny detail of this long-awaited event.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had begun her move out of the White House, an extraordinary event in the annals of the presidency. Her husband, after all, is still president.
The new house will be the backdrop for this unusual marriage during the final year of Clinton's second presidential term. Clinton has promised to visit often, as the first lady sets aside her official White House duties to pursue a seat in the U.S. Senate. But because the president has also said he will spend much of his retirement in Arkansas, the arrangement seems certain to spur more questions about the sometimes mysterious relationship between the Clintons.
Those questions took a backseat to logistics today. Aides said that tomorrow the first lady will begin unpacking the Clinton belongings--which include household goods dating back to their days in Arkansas--and she will sleep in her new $1.7 million Dutch colonial home Wednesday night for the first time. Later in the week, she is expected back in Washington, said Toby Graff, deputy press secretary in the first lady's office.
"We expect the president and Hillary to be here, fully moved in, toward the end of next week," said Karen Finney, a Hillary Clinton campaign aide. At that time, the couple will stay in Chappaqua together for a night when he will be in town on presidential business, aides said.
So begins this brand new phase in the Clintons' ever-eventful public life, and Hillary Clinton (D)--who hopes to defeat New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani(R) for the Senate seat--is apparently looking forward to it. The new house establishes the legal residency required of candidates for political office in New York. "Hillary is very excited about this," said Finney. "She's excited to get this move happening and she's excited about the trucks coming today, about being here tomorrow and they're going to be able to be here next week."
Less excited were some of the neighbors who complained, first to the Secret Service and then to the local police, that their cul-de-sac was being obstructed by so much hullabaloo. A quaint hamlet in the town of New Castle, 38 miles north of midtown Manhattan, Chappaqua is among the wealthier New York suburbs and is known, also, for its fine public schools. Since the Clintons' purchase of the home at 15 Old House Lane became known in September, residents of the area have been variously giddy or grumpy about these most famous neighbors on their way. Today was for the grumps.
"Neighbors are complaining," a Secret Service agent warned, motioning to a house near the Clintons', as he tried to press reporters to one side of the street. "I've already got two calls." It seems no one told the neighbors that the Clintons were about to become neighbors today.
Inside the house, meanwhile, Clinton friends were being helpful. Kaki Hockersmith was repeating the interior decorating assistance she gave the Clintons in Little Rock and in Washington, where chintz is prevalent in the private residence. Hockersmith was showing the movers where to place the boxes and furniture. Along with her was Carolyn Huber, also a longtime friend.
Huber is more prominent perhaps because of her odd role in the Whitewater affair. A White House correspondence clerk, she discovered Hillary Clinton's infamous Rose Law Firm billing records that had been subpoenaed from the White House during the Whitewater probe and were said for several months to be missing. Huber happened upon them one day. The women were not available for comment about their latest services as Clinton friends.
Their hands were no doubt full. The two trucks, each 26 feet long, offloaded a scant few Clinton household goods from the White House, but boxes and boxes of goods and furniture that have been in storage since the Clintons moved from Little Rock to Washington in 1992. That means some of the items date back to the 1980s, possibly even the late 1970s.
Reporters were not allowed to see the moving take place, but were later given a brief description of some of the items moved: wooden kitchen chairs, rolled-up rugs, boxes and more boxes, and a large bed. A White House aide said the Clinton items had been stored in Washington facilities that are made available to all first families. Through the holiday season, when they had the time, the Clintons have been sifting through their things to decide what should go to New York and what should stay in Washington.
"I have been helping," President Clinton told reporters in the Oval Office today. "We've been working at it. We've been boxing things up, figuring out what to leave here, what to move there. It's been a rather interesting challenge over the holidays. But I've enjoyed it very much."
Though Hillary Clinton told reporters before Christmas that "we are mostly trying to use what we have" and no new furniture would be purchased just yet, it is not clear whether two truckloads can fill the sprawling 5,200-square-foot, 11-room home. The 101-year-old house has four bathrooms, five bedrooms and a wraparound master-suite balcony that overlooks a backyard pool.
The Clintons received a local variance to erect an eight-foot fence around the property, no doubt a security requirement, but such a fence was not up today, nor was there a guard booth, as is also expected. Instead, Secret Service agents guarding the place had hooked up a telephone and sat it on a large rock at the foot of the gravel drive, amid the towering evergreen trees that ring the Clintons' new house.
Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report from Washington.
CAPTION: A moving truck enters the grounds of the Clintons' new home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
CAPTION: A van carrying the Clintons' belongings arrives at the Chappaqua, N.Y., home where the first lady will stay tonight.