President's first trip since report draws crowd New Yorkers are lined seven to eight deep for 10 blocks


NEW YORK -- In a day of respite from the intense circumspection going on in Washington, President Clinton came to New York yesterday in pursuit of money and perhaps solace, and found some of both.

Making his first trip since the release of the Starr report and accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Clinton gave a speech on the global economy and planned to circulate at three crowded Democratic fund-raisers, including an evening performance of "The Lion King."

Among a populace long supportive of him, he was largely greeted with encouragement to proceed with his job, though he also encountered his share of dissidents.

In a city in which presidential visits are humdrum and often disdained for the gridlock they add to already traffic-clogged streets, there was keener interest than usual in Clinton's itinerary in the wake of the report from the independent counsel.

"I don't like what he did, but I'm not angry at him," said Mary Kane, a medical administrator trying to catch a view of the president as he arrived for his speech yesterday morning on East 68th Street, a block from where she works. "I'd love to see him. I'd tell him, 'Good luck and I wish you well.' "

Throughout a day that the Democratic Party said raised more than $4 million, there seemed to be more affirmation than antipathy among hundreds who lined the avenues as Clinton's motorcade wound its way from a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on 68th Street and Park Avenue to the trio of fund-raisers.

People pressed against police sawhorses along Park Avenue clapped and waved as he proceeded to lunch on 60th Street. There were only a handful of picketers calling for his resignation.

"I don't think what he did was necessarily awful," said Adam Gana, a freshman at Hunter College, across from where the president was speaking. "I think maybe he should have been a little more considerate and not lied. But I like the president. I don't think he's a bad guy. If I could get a word with him, I'd ask him about the universal health coverage rather than the stupid affairs he's had."

Later on, as Clinton passed down Fifth Avenue on the way to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, people were lined seven and eight deep for 10 blocks, craning for a look at him, and some of them waited patiently for more than an hour. When he approached the hotel, about half of the crowd there cheered and the other half booed.

Some called for his resignation. "I feel he should resign," said Ivan Richards, 30, a Manhattan therapist. "It's put a stop on our country. We can't get anything done."

Others wanted him to fight on. "I'm out here because it's still exciting to see the president," said Andrea DeMaso, 25, a marketing executive from Dix Hills, N.Y. "I think he's doing good job and has only done what all the presidents before him have done."

At his various stops, Clinton sidestepped any discussion of the Lewinsky matter. His morning speech was presented to about 150 people, who were polite but not especially enthusiastic. Some council members who had been invited stayed away.

Many of those who did come were reading newspaper coverage of the Lewinsky matter and then hastily tucked the papers away when word came that the president had arrived.

Theodore C. Sorensen, who attended the speech, summed up the feelings of many by saying that while Clinton's lying under oath was "inexcusable, it does not amount to high crimes and misdemeanors."

Some others, who insisted on anonymity, were more critical and said that his conduct had diminished the presidency and they hoped he would resign.

Clinton took no questions, and when a reporter twice shouted to him whether he would accept censure from Congress, Clinton ignored him.

At a $50,000-a-couple fund-raising luncheon on Fifth Avenue, Clinton did allude to the latest events when he said, "The adversity of the moment, I think, has led us to this record turnout. Why? Because people made a decision and they thought they were needed and they stood up."

The luncheon was held in the two-story penthouse of Denise Rich, a socialite, philanthropist and lyricist, whose ex-husband, Marc Rich, is a fugitive commodities trader who fled the country rather than face prosecution in a tax case.

Sixty couples filled tables arranged in three rooms, and others were turned away because of lack of space. Clinton had his grilled sea bass in a different room from his wife. Vice President Al Gore and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House minority leader, attended, though Rep. Charles B. Rangel was the solitary New York politician to show up.

In his introduction, Steve Grossman, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said, "Mr. President, it seems to me that you have demonstrated, at least in my adult lifetime, a higher commitment to the kind of moral leadership that I value in public service and public policy than any other person I've ever met."

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