House-hunting occupies Hillary Clinton's aides

Budget, security concerns lead to rejection of many posh N.Y. properties

July 15, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. -- It takes more than a village. Just ask Hillary Rodham Clinton's real estate agents.

Her property advisers are forwarding house listings from dozens of villages around New York state in a full-blown campaign for a Clinton residency -- a key step as she pursues her all-but-announced run for the Senate.

This suburb in horse country was one of the dozens to rise and fall in favor recently as her aides tear through New York City and its suburbs. A 17-acre estate here had been on Clinton's A-list for weeks, but yesterday her people tossed it onto the "no" pile.

The first lady's advisers still say they are looking for potential Hillary Havens everywhere, from the fashion-conscious enclaves of Manhattan, to the cow pat country of the state's rural reaches, to the duffer-filled expanse of the country club suburbs.

"The rumors about where she'll move are still flying around like crazy," said Jerome Billingsley, president of Frances Billingsley Real Estate in Katonah, one of several agents on Hillary watch.

"We're faxing listings to her people all the time and waiting for word. Maybe they'll call us last-minute."

Many Realtors believe that Clinton will land in Westchester, one of the nation's wealthiest counties and home to working mothers, suburban commuters and other critical swing voters. She has searched in the county's upscale northern reaches, where horse pastures come with houses, Mercedes sedans gleam despite the muddy roads and poodles get to ride in the front seat.

Clinton's lead scout, Kathy Sloane, a real estate agent from the Manhattan firm Brown, Harris, Stevens, said, "She really is looking everywhere."

Sloane was given explicit directions by the first family on how much the property should cost and how much privacy and space it should offer. Sloane would not discuss details, only that, "They've given very clear directions about what they want."

The first lady has visited 10 properties in person, while aides have screened and videotaped several others, advisers said.

Yesterday, Sloane shot down a leading bet for the first lady's future home -- a $3.8 million, 17-acre estate on Mills Road in North Salem -- citing "security concerns."

The local newspaper, the Patent Trader, published an article last week about the grisly murder of an 18-year-old woman on the property in 1967 by the estate's caretaker.

But its dark history was not the estate's only problem.

The property would cost $20,000 a month to rent. The Clintons are said to want to spend $10,000 a month, tops, whether they rent or buy.

Bill Clinton is the most indebted president in U.S. history -- with a whopping $10 million legal fees. The Clintons' combined income last year of $504,109 will go only so far in the extravagant market.

For many residents of North Salem, yesterday's rejection of the Mills Ridge Estate -- with its barn, tennis court, two swimming pools and sweeping balcony views -- brought a wave of relief. One resident had worried that if Clinton moved in, her motorcade would disrupt the annual fox hunt. Still more dreaded the prospect of hovering helicopters and reporters seeking Clintonian dirt.

"Anyone who comes with an immense amount of notoriety and a lot of media coverage would not be a good thing," said Town Supervisor Sy Globerman, a Republican. "I would have complaints coming to my desk if she moved here, and, because of her federal connections, I would be powerless."

In this conservative enclave, others objected on political grounds to Clinton as neighbor-in-chief. One resident posted signs pointing the way back to Arkansas. Another planned anti-Clinton bumper stickers. Some residents joked about renaming streets with suggestive phrases from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

To some extent, Clinton will project the image of the town she chooses -- a tricky prospect, since she does not want to be seen as hobnobbing exclusively with moneyed New Yorkers.

Some of the northern Westchester towns scouted by Clinton's advisers are known as havens for the privileged. At the Good Land Cafe in North Salem, two women recently spent lunch discussing the lifestyles of their suburban circle -- their former husbands, their current husbands, a friend's child who gets yearly stipends instead of weekly allowances, a too-thin tennis partner and a psychologist who is great with children.

So far, Clinton has made just one house-hunting expedition, when she and her daughter, Chelsea, toured homes in New York City and Westchester in late June. The first lady, who is running the family's house hunt, has also viewed videotapes of mansions in several counties.

Her scouts, meanwhile, have called prospective sellers -- including one Katonah-area man who received a call even though his house isn't on the market.

Last month, Clinton rejected another North Salem home -- a stone contemporary owned by David Liederman of David's Cookies. Aside from being too countrified, it was also deemed too close to the road. No neighbors are to peer inside the Clinton house.

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