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Bubba Takes Manhattan

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There's a fairly recent precedent for this. Twenty years ago, another shrewd ex-president -- one who also proposed an ambitious health-care plan, worked hard to improve relations with China, and got himself embroiled in a humiliating scandal -- set up shop in New York. The trouble was, New Yorkers didn't care for Richard Nixon very much. For two years, he was in the city but never of it.

But Clinton is different. Gotham has always adored him, and it will adore him even more when the police no longer shut down the streets to let him through, as they did last week. "I've been in 40 or 50 countries with the president, and nearly every state," says Doug Sosnik, a former senior adviser. "He got a better reception in New York than anywhere we ever went. Up or down, scandal or no scandal, New York always had the largest and most enthusiastic crowds."

D'Amato can say what he wants. My guess is that after a while, Clinton would blend right in. He's a born New Yorker, much more so than his wife: His metabolism is 24-7, his curiosities are bottomless, and he's always hungry -- for food, discussion, and, as we've so tediously learned, the messier pleasures in life. (Though someone should probably give him a quick update about the latest urban innovations: Does he know about MetroCards? About Moviefone? That he can order golf videos on Kozmo?)

And if there's anywhere in the world where Clinton will still feel like he's president after January 20, 2001, it's New York. Elected office here is like tenure -- isn't Ed Koch still mayor, eleven years later? And isn't D'Amato still Senator Pothole, now and forever, twisting arms and collecting favors and running Albany? "Some people go to New York and never really become a New Yorker," muses Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services, who once was president of Hunter College. "Bill Clinton will be a New Yorker in five minutes."

Lucianne Goldberg is standing idly in Elaine's, contemplating the crowd at a launch party for Bloomberg's new Saturday talk show, Politically Speaking. "I don't think he'd do the Le Cirque scene," she says, giving her vodka-and-soda an ominous swirl. "The food's not . . . big . . . enough. I'm thinking steakhouses. The Old Homestead will become chic again. And Ponte's -- that old mob joint on the river -- that has huge food and a walk-in humidor. He'll love that."

"Please," says Ed Koch. "There's seven and a half million people here. He doesn't have to worry about bumping into Monica."

Whenever anyone, friend or foe, tries to imagine Bill Clinton in Manhattan, this is pretty much the first thing that comes to mind: food.

Goldberg continues scanning the room. "Actually, he'll probably eat right here," she says abruptly. "He'll sit at Geraldo's table, keeping Ann Coulter's skinny butt out of her chair."

The president has indeed eaten at Elaine's before. But that was a lifetime ago, just before he set sail for Oxford. As Elaine herself notes, he had black hair back then. Now she hopes Clinton will come back. "He can sit anywhere he wants," Elaine adds. "He's the big kahuna."

New York society will turn cartwheels to get his attention. Who wouldn't want some of that legendary magnetism in his or her dining room, rearranging the silverware? "When he arrives," predicts Steven Rattner, the all-star investment banker, "there will be at least twenty dinners in his honor. That will be the really funny part."

Harvey Weinstein will probably throw one of them and invite Ben and Gwynnie. Barbara Walters will use her shindig to request the first post-presidential interview. (But Larry King will get it.) Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel will probably do something, too -- when she and her husband, the new ambassador to Slovakia, aren't in Bratislava.

The question, though, isn't who will seek out Clinton. The question is whom Clinton himself will seek. As Russell Simmons notes: "He's proven he can get along with the Wasps. But I don't think he's gonna be hanging out with them."

Intellectuals. Scientists. Actors. Media big shots. Writers. Clinton will no doubt cut a stunning swath. "When I was in New York," says Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, formerly the ambassador to the U.N., "I once arranged a dinner with a bunch of writers and playwrights. There was Gabriel García Marquez, E. L. Doctorow, Joan Didion, Walter Mosley . . . and I'll never forget -- he was the one who was mesmerizing them."

Which says nothing of the effect Clinton will have on this city's women, to whom he's a 214-pound mound of catnip. Sex and the City could devote an entire episode to Samantha's attempts to nail him. "I picture him having dinner at Da Silvano," says Kate Bohner, sultry bon vivant and business reporter, "and people strolling by on their way to the bathroom in the back, and everyone -- from Gwyneth Paltrow to Mary Boone -- can't help but stop, even though it's cheesy. Because they just know he's a bad boy."

Which raises another important concern: church. Where in New York do Southern Baptists go? Worse, where in Westchester? Reassuringly, the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts says Clinton is welcome at the legendary Abyssinian up in Harlem -- "as a Christian, as a brother, as a New Yorker. We love him."

At any rate, life in New York is going to mean many late nights. So many, in fact, the president just might want to consider renting a pied-à-terre. Sure, the tabloids will have fun with it (Daily News headline: elvis is in the building!), and gossip, obviously, will ooze ("Page Six" blind item: Which former elected official has been caught canoodling with three different blondes outside his new Manhattan digs? Friends say his commuter marriage is working out just fine . . .). But it wouldn't be an unreasonable investment, considering that the president is a night owl, and the trip back to Chappaqua will seem like an awful schlep at three in the morning.

"It can't be a regular co-op," says Mario Cuomo, who for some reason has given Clinton's future lodgings a lot of thought. "Because co-ops are democracies run amok. They're all run by people who've failed in their own elections for city councils. So scratch that. He can't live in a condo, because the security problem is too big. And a brownstone -- that presents pretty much the same problem.

"So my guess," concludes the former governor, "is a big luxury hotel with residence apartments. And to make it perfect, it has to be next to a very big McDonald's, because the luxury places will send up syrupy breakfasts with cream in it and call it French, and what he'll really want is an overcooked, multilayered, cheese-laden, horribly-bad-for-you hamburger."

He pauses for breath.

"Probably on the Upper West Side, because he's youngish."

"The Upper West Side?"

This is Alice Mason, the Upper East Side socialite who became one of Jimmy Carter's biggest patrons once he left public office, the doyenne who in 1992 threw Clinton a legendary fund-raising supper, teasing $1.5 million out of only fifteen couples.


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