Clinton says 'I love this place.' And it loves him, partly.
Serenaded by African-American musicians, former President Clinton staged a triumphant arrival at his Harlem office. But not all cheered.
love you Harlem!" Bill Clinton says in that famous voice that sounds like he never left the campaign trail. "Now I feel like I'm home."Skip to next paragraph
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Home in this case is a presidential office, located only a few blocks from where Fidel Castro once spent his nights and just down the street from the Apollo Theater, where tap dancers and blues singers tried to become the next big act. But also not far is Harlem's own Starbucks and a Disney store - both part of a renaissance that is turning the epicenter of black culture more mainstream. As such, Mr. Clinton's new "home" is just another sign that Harlem is back - now fit for an ex-president to write his memoirs or maybe check his senator-wife's speeches over.
It is a place where Clinton can feel comfortable. Harlem always voted overwhelmingly for him, regardless of his personal travails. It's not a surprise when musicians, there to greet him, break out into their own version of a Ben E. King's classic. "Staaaand by me," they sing. "President Clinton, staaaand by me."
The former first saxophonist grooves. He snaps his fingers to the Harlem Boy's Choir doo-wop, drops the name Sylvia's, a neighborhood soul-food institution, and shares his aspirations as a young jazz musician to one day play at the Apollo, alongside some of the most famous musicians around. Then he shrugs and adds, "I ain't dead yet."
The crowd roars.
It is a Harlem welcome - neighbors boisterously clapping their hands and singing along. Effectively forgotten is the fact that the former president had actually wanted to move into a deluxe high rise in Manhattan, but changed his mind under pressure over the costs.
So, he's moved uptown. "God bless you," Clinton says. He waves to the crowd. Hundreds wave back. Some snatch pictures; others haul their children onto their shoulders for a better glimpse.
Back in Washington, President Bush is addressing police about racial profiling - one of the most pervasive concerns among African-Americans today - but the event doesn't create much buzz. For blacks in largely Democratic Harlem, Monday morning is Clinton's day - and he may as well still be the president, at least in this neck of the woods.
"He's still my president," gushes Rachel Harvey, from underneath a big straw hat. Ms. Harvey was born in South Carolina, but has spent the past 57 years in Harlem. "He's the one who can help the poor. I just know it."
One yellow sign, bopping up and down from the sea of bodies, demands in thick magic marker: "Repeal the 22nd Amendment," which put a two-term limit on the presidency. Buttons of Clinton's face decorate lapels and T-shirts. Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, and the man who found Clinton his office in Harlem, says of the former president, "If we had our way, he would be reelected."
Despite his promises not to Clinton-ize Harlem, but to Harlem-ize himself, some aren't buying it. "Rents are already too high for people and small businesses. I don't want to see my community overgentrified," says Leslie Mostyn, who lives 10 blocks from Clinton's new office.
She points to the independent stores along 125th Street, like Mahogany and Apollo Beauty Supply. Then she looks up at billboards for Old Navy and the Gap. "If I can't afford to live here, what's the point of him coming here?" she asks, between bites of an artichoke and roasted red pepper sandwich - a gift handed out by Citarella, Manhattan's gourmet grocer.
Meanwhile, a group of some 25 New Black Panthers, dressed in black suits and berets, aren't the least bit smitten with Clinton's enthusiasm for black Harlem. At the front of a line they form down the sidewalk, a young woman with dreadlocks holds a sign that reads: "Bill Clinton = Gentrification. The White Take Over of Black Harlem." She flexes her fist for a news camera.
Malik Zulu Shabazz, the chairman of the group, leads a chant, "Black Power, Black Power," as the Panthers begin marching uniformly down 125th Street. But their voices are drowned out by the jazz music coming from the stage, as Clinton walks to his car.