FIRST APPEARED AS A COVER STORY IN THE NOVEMBER 2006 INSIDE CHAPPAQUA MAGAZINE
By Grace Bennett
In the midst of planning this “back to school” issue, I sat down with Senator Clinton immediately before she set off as an honored participant and speaker in New Castle’s Memorial Day Parade–an event that has become an annual tradition for the Senator since the Clintons’ move here over three years ago.. Though I gave it the old college try, I failed to entice her to share her plans for the 2008 election. I think I did, however, manage to extract at least a few interesting nuggets, particularly about her experiences as a Chappaqua and Westchester resident (see if you agree), picked her brain on a couple more pressing issues, and ultimately enjoyed the interview at Lange’s despite my concern about any pre-parade hustle and bustle interference. Senator Clinton arrived on time, with support staff and Secret Service agents in tow, to a pre-designated table. She struck me immediately as relaxed and comfortable. Almost instantly and in full view of Girl Scouts, their leaders and assorted other deli customers munching on eggs and bagels, we got down to business…
How would you describe Chappaqua to someone who has never been here before?
Senator Clinton: It is a welcoming small town in the greater New York City metropolitan area with all the advantages of both.
GB: What are some of the advantages to you in living here?
By Grace Bennett
Senator Clinton: First of all, it’s physically so beautiful and I love the history of it…the fact that it’s been here so long. The people are the number one attraction. We’ve had such a great time since we’ve moved in, getting to know people, getting to spend time with people. We like the convenience of everything around here. We like the fact that we can take long walks just walking out of our house and basically go for miles in all directions. The parks, the arboretum and other places we love to go—the Rockefeller Preserve—all of that is just very convenient and very beautiful. We eat in the restaurants, we shop in the stores…we’ve just had a great experience.
GB: What are your favorite haunts? Crabtree Kittle House and Le Jardin come to mind, but have there been any new surprises?
Senator Clinton: We like Grappolo’s in addition to the places you mentioned. We are regulars at Lange’s. It’s the first place we came when we moved here. We go to Starbuck’s a lot, Britches*–I adore Phyllis** –and Village Market. GB: Do you feel your privacy is respected? Senator Clinton: Very much so. People are friendly but everyone is busy with their own lives, and they’re always nice to us when we see them. We’ve gotten to know some people by just running into them at a restaurant or some other haunt.
GB: You mentioned at the (Chappaqua) School Foundation gala that this is a district generous with funding for extraordinary programs. But you were also careful to add—and I admired that you did—that we can’t forget ordinary programming for other districts. How do you feel living in a community in which there are obviously so many luxuries and people who are so well to do. How do we narrow the gap between a district like Chappaqua and other districts with fewer resources?
Senator Clinton: That’s a really good question. I’ve spent more than 25 years worrying about just that question. I wish every child had the chance to go to school in a place like Chappaqua. I first visited Bell*** in ’99. Whenever I walk into a school, no matter where I am in the country, I always say to the teachers, “Well, how do you like teaching here?” Well, you can get a real earful. Sometimes, it’s not so much by what they say, but by their body language (you know, by how they roll their eyes or shrug). But these teachers said it’s like Camelot, it’s the greatest teaching place. Everybody is so committed to giving the kids the best possible education and we don’t have that in many places in our state.
So, you can look at what Chappaqua offers and say to yourself, “What can we do to try and improve the quality of teaching and the general involvement and support as well as the facilities and curriculums for kids that are not lucky enough to live here. There’s a lot of hard work associated with that…and it does take money. People who say that education is not a question of money are talking about somebody else’s kids. Because people who live here not only pay very high property taxes but also contribute in other ways… that gives even more advantage to their children.
GB: A lot of people also feel that in a community like Chappaqua, there can be a sense of entitlement around children, with everyone rolling out the red carpet for them. What about “adversity building character”? How would you suggest parents teach values in an area like this where maybe it’s too much of an easy street? Can that be a problem?
Senator Clinton: I can talk about my own experiences. Obviously, Chelsea grew up in circumstances very different from Bill’s or mine, first in the Governor’s Mansion in Arkansas and then in the White House. We worked really hard to avoid that sense of entitlement that can be very corrosive to a child’s understanding of the larger world. And so we would have chores for her to do. We had her involved in charitable programs from a very young age, starting when she was three or four with Secret Santa**** and so many other exposures so that she never took for granted the blessings that she had. She had other experiences during the summers with different kinds of people so we made sure that she just didn’t live in a bubble. I think that’s part of a parent’s challenge when you live in an affluent area…because the world is very different from the wonderful, safe surroundings that we provide for our children growing up in a place like Chappaqua. And I think you owe to to your children to make sure they are respectful to all people, their teachers, their coaches, other adults, but also to people who work inside their homes and who provide services to you.
GB: I understand that you and Bill Clinton gravitate as much as possible to coming home to Chappaqua. Has Chappaqua really in your heart become your home? Do you have a long term commitment to this town? Is Chappaqua going to be your home if you run and if you win? Could Chappaqua be the hometown of the next president?
Senator Clinton: (Chuckling) I don’t know about that, but I can tell you that when I get home which is often very late, unfortunately, and I sometimes have to leave very early too, I always feel like I am coming home. We feel so fortunate to have found a place that we love—our house—plus a place we love to live that is everything we could have asked for. You know, we didn’t have a house of our own for 20 years because of Bill’s political career and of the fact that his being a governor and a president, obviously you live in very high quality public housing. I think the real challenge for anybody when you make such a big transition is to feel like you are at home and to have a sense of community. Know your neighbors. I just feel that…completely.
GB: Do you get together with your neighbors?
Senator Clinton: We have wonderful neighbors our our street and we have gotten to know all of them. When we first moved in, our first Christmas, we had a very small open house just for our street. We really enjoy the people who live right near us. I’ve been able to run next door with Chelsea for a cup of brown sugar when we were trying to make something.
GB: Does Chelsea have a chance to visit Chappaqua much?
Senator Clinton: She does. She too have a very busy life with an apartment in the city but she comes as often as she can. She comes for holidays. I’ll be doing a birthday party for my mother who’s turning 87 next week and she’ll be there along with some of our other friends and relatives. We also have two nephews and we try to get each of them to come and spend a week. One of our nephews, Bill’s brother’s son, just loves to spend time in our yard with our dog, this great Labrador. The other loves to go to the zoon. So we do just have a wonderful time using all of the attractions and opportunities that we have because we live in Chappaqua.
GB: OK, now for a darker question. How do you address Indian Point and our safety and security in this area? That’s on everyone’s minds in this town and in other towns in Westchester, and indeed in New York City.
Senator Clinton: It should be. There has been the biggest series of missteps and misinformation for the last five years when obviously attention turned to Indian Point in an every more focused way after September 11. I have remained very involved with it and I have called for many things over the last several years including forcing them to put in new sirens so that they’d have an emergency system that would actually work. Recently, I’ve been calling for an independent safety assessment. There are just too many problems…there are leaks, exposure to workers, problems with evacuation and all the difficulties that have been covered in the press and so I’ve joined with colleagues in both sides of the House…it’s totally bipartisan… in both the House and the Senate to require an independent safety assessment. I’ve asked the chairman (, TK, TK DIAZ); he has agreed in part but not gone as far as I wanted him to go…I’m pushing as hard as possible to get them to live up to the highest possible standards. When I say “them,” I’m not just talking about the company (Entergy), but also NRC (the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) because the NRC is the public regulatory framework that is supposed to be safeguarding our interests.
GB: I remember you once mentioned how Chappaqua people are ubiquitous. I wanted to see if I can get more of your sentiments about what you meant by that.
Senator Clinton: They are just very involved. Before I looked at a house in Chappaqua, I had never heard of Chappaqua. It wasn’t 24 hours in the fall of ’99 when we announced that we were buying a house in Chappaqua that people started coming up to me and announcing that they were from Chappaqua, their parents still lived in Chappaqua, or that they had gone to school at Greeley. Suddenly I learned this new word and everyone around me was saying it. But also in way of involvement in the community—both the immediate community here in Chappaqua, in the larger city and then in the state, but even on national and international issues, there’s a lot of concern here. Our churches and synagogues…At our church, The First Methodist Church in Mount Kisco, they sent children and teenagers to help after Katrina…there’s just a whole lot of social consciousness around.
GB: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for the residents here…what are some of the factors you’re considering of whether or not you would run (for President)?
Senator Clinton: I just want to do the job I have to the best of my ability and let the future take care if itself when it gets there!
GB: What do you say to the chorus of even liberal voices that say a woman can’t be elected president?
Senator Clinton: I hope that they’re wrong. Whether it’s me or someone else. Because that would be a huge psychological barrier to put up in the lives of half our population and we’ve come too far and women have proven themselves in every walk of life; it would be a shame if suddenly people were reverting to old stereotypes. Every election is between real people. It’s not between cardboard cut-outs. It’s not between myths—it’s between real people, so it depends upon who those people are and what kind of case they make about what they want to do for our country. I think it would be real unfortunate if people discouraged women from pursuing their ambitions, whatever they are. I mean we’re fighting wars right now in part because freedom is denied to people–and particularly to women and girls.