Hillary Clinton, fund-raiser

New D.C. home set as backdrop tonight

April 25, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Tonight, Hillary Rodham Clinton will hold the first fund-raiser at her new home near Washington's Embassy Row. Security will patrol the senator's backyard koi pond, Democratic rainmakers will huddle amid the rhododendrons and party faithful will step into the $2.85 million residence with $1,000 checks in hand.

"I'll be there," says Nancy Zirkin, a Democratic fund-raiser and chief lobbyist for the American Association of University Women. "I support women candidates because, frankly, there aren't that many of them."

Party activists hope Clinton's Washington pied-a-terre will double as a salon where politics is discussed, new relationships are built and lots of money is raised. After tonight's fund-raiser for Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, whose 2000 campaign has been mired in debt, many more Democrats will be awaiting the Hillary treatment.

"I believe I'm a person on her list," says Alan Solomont, former Democratic National Committee finance chairman and a major donor to party causes. "I'm sure she will use her home to bring people together. She already is doing that for Senator Cantwell, and she'll continue to do it."

The New York Democrat appears to be warming to the task. In the weeks leading up to tonight's event, Clinton has phoned her own donors, asking them to attend, according to a Democratic strategist. In response, die-hard Clinton supporters with no connection to Cantwell are flying to Washington for the fund-raiser, the strategist says.

Democrats view tonight as the first of many events in which Clinton will put her home and her celebrity to work on a national scale. As she settles into her new job in the Senate, party insiders hope she will increasingly use her political presence and fund-raising influence - qualities she established as first lady and as a candidate during the 2000 campaign - to re-energize the party.

And what better backdrop for such efforts than her new Washington home? It is an object of curiosity, upstaging lavish embassies and the estates of aging political luminaries.

"Who wouldn't want to have a fund-raiser over there?" asks James Carville, the strategist for former President Bill Clinton. "Are you going to pay a thousand dollars to go to a hotel or go to Senator Clinton's new house? Hell, I'd want to go to the house. It's a matter of human nature."

Friends say Clinton is focused on making the Georgian brick home comfortable for three generations of her family - her husband, the former president; her widowed mother, Dorothy Rodham; and her daughter, Chelsea. The D.C. home is mostly Hillary's domain. So far, Bill Clinton has spent most of his time at the couple's Dutch colonial in Chappaqua, N.Y., although he's expected to attend the fund-raiser tonight in Washington.

Over the years, the genteel estate on Whitehaven Street in northwest Washington has catered to the political elite. President Bush's grandfather, Connecticut Republican Sen. Prescott Bush, was a regular guest at parties here in the 1950s. Conservative Republicans such as Sen. Robert Taft mingled with liberal Democrats such as Sen. J. William Fulbright amid the thick evergreens and lush flower beds.

The house has changed owners a few times since those days, when it was owned by Katherine Sloane Graves, a Democratic socialite and party activist. But the house remains a gathering place for the politically connected.

Its new inhabitant is plenty formidable. Clinton ignites a passion in her supporters, who see her as a new leader for their party, a fervent spokeswoman for their causes and a powerful mobilizer.

"Mrs. Clinton ... is clearly the top fund-raising draw in the Democratic Party," says Jim Jordan, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money for Senate candidates. "She has generously and cheerfully shouldered that responsibility."

At the same time, Clinton also inspires frenzied check-writing by her opponents, who need only invoke her name to raise bushels of cash.

"Her name is extraordinarily effective. It's a gift," says Al Mitchler, a former finance director of the Republican National Committee. "If you're at the national committee, you are setting her up as the enemy in all your fund-raising letters. She is not a real person - she embodies an emotion. Does that make money? Yes."

Clinton's staffers say the senator is concentrating only on attending to matters of importance to New Yorkers, not on turning her home into another Democratic Party headquarters. Intent on keeping attention on Clinton's Senate work - and away from discussions of her role as a fund-raiser - her spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.

Since becoming a senator, Clinton has been slow to deploy her fund-raising skills. Instead, she has concentrated on her day-to-day Senate work, boasting perfect attendance and introducing legislation such as an economic renewal package for struggling upstate New York.

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