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Hillary's Turn

Since 1992, Hillary Clinton has morphed from two-for-the-price-of-one partner to failed health-care czar to long-suffering wife and, now, New York Senate hopeful. In a freewheeling interview, she talks about the road she's been on -- and the one to come.

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Somehow, in New York more than most other places, campaigns are hammered into shape by events that happen outside them. And so, suddenly, with the alleged shooting by police of Patrick Dorismond and Mayor Giuliani's release of Dorismond's sealed juvenile record, boom, we have a campaign. For the first time, after months of fragile caution, Hillary Clinton tore into the mayor, who, as is his custom, tore back. The mayor's actions in the past week reinforced for New Yorkers just how well we know him -- in maintaining his barrage on Dorismond's character, Giuliani was not making elaborate political calculations beyond the understanding of others; he was just being himself. By contrast, Mrs. Clinton's verbal grenades showed a side of her we've never seen, more aggressive and direct than she's ever been since she started coming to the state last July. It underscored, her immense fame notwithstanding, how little we know about her -- as a candidate, to be sure, and simply as a person in her own right.

If nothing else, this improbable campaign will see to it that Hillary Clinton's frequently mutating image will receive one more makeover. Whether she's sincere or ambitious, distrustful of people or open to them, are among the questions about her that voters will answer in their own way come November. But what follows should shed some light on them. In her most extensive interview since coming to New York, she talks about her candidacy, her caution, her recent incaution, the press, the health-care failure, Bill's shadow, Trent Lott, archaeology, modern art, the Stanhope, even the Three Stooges and The Flintstones. However you feel about her, you'll find out something here you didn't know.

New York Magazine: What grade would you give yourself so far as a candidate?

"I was told that New York's was the toughest political environment in the country. I think that's right. People offer me their opinions at the drop of a hat, but by and large, I feel very welcome."

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I'd grade myself as Needs Improvement but Making an Effort and Getting Better laughs.

NYM: Okay. I'll put a grade on that, C-plus. Fair?

HRC: I don't think about it that way. It's been a learning experience. You know, I have a lot of sympathy for the vice-president, who, when I watched him start his campaign last spring, I could tell was really having a hard time making the transition. And I didn't realize how hard that would be until I tried to do it myself. To move out of saying we to I -- you know, it took some time to figure out how to do that.

NYM: I was in Rochester, at the hotel, that morning the Village Voice story came out about Giuliani's letter accusing you of "hostility to America's religious traditions." When you walked through those double doors, you were quaking with rage. But then when you started to speak, the rhetoric was very soft and very careful.

HRC: Well, I was outraged. I thought it was a . . . misuse of campaign tactics and rhetoric, and it was insulting to me. But I understood why he did it, and why he will continue to do it --

NYM: Why is that?

HRC: It raises a lot of money. This isn't complicated. That's why he won't release his letters. He doesn't want us to see what else he's saying about me to open the pocketbooks of the far right and the people who respond to Ollie North and Jesse Helms and Richard Viguerie.

But I also believe that it's important when you're in a campaign to always remember that this is not about you. That if you become emotionally angry and say everything that's on your mind about how you feel, you lose a chance to communicate clearly that what you're really going to get up every day worrying about is not what your opponent says about you but what you're going to do for people.

I also believe that it is just more difficult for women candidates to express their strong feelings about things affecting them, as opposed to how I feel about gun control or the deteriorating public schools or stirring up racial hostility, which I can be as angry about and as determined to fix as I possibly can be. But I think you make a mistake if you let any campaign become about you. I know who I am. I know what I believe. I know what I would do in the Senate. And I know what my religious convictions are. There's nothing he can say, after I've calmed down, that will affect who I am.

NYM: Well, let me ask you about the Diallo verdict, and your response to that. Again, I felt it was soft, didn't really take a side, didn't really --

HRC: I did not want in any way to be a part of a reaction that could conceivably have resulted in any kind of disorder or violence. I did not have any official responsibility or job that would enable me to help control anything. And I thought it was very important to be measured and to be thoughtful about what I said. I carry a very heavy responsibility. I'm not the usual Senate candidate laughs, for better or worse. I don't want anything I say or do to feed into the kind of, ah, climate in which people engage in insults.

NYM: Then, last week, after the Dorismond shooting, you really took the gloves off and went after the mayor. What made you do that?

HRC: It was wrong for the mayor to rush to judgment and release Patrick Dorismond's records. It was wrong for him to refuse to reach out, and it was wrong for him to make the situation worse by lashing out and losing control.


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