It might be assumed that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has more pressing items on her to-do list than making it each year to the local Memorial Day Parade at Chappaqua, New York. But, sure enough, there was Mrs. Clinton in a tan suit and jaunty straw hat marching down King Street on Monday with the local office holders, as her husband, the former president, and Governor Andrew M Cuomo trailed a bit behind.
“I put this on my calendar every year, and I basically tell my staff I really, really, really want to do this,” Mrs Clinton says. “So unless there’s some crisis of significant proportions, I’ll be here, and I’ve had a few crises where I’ve had to take phone calls as I've marched. Next week I'm going to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, but I said, ‘That is going to happen after Memorial Day, no matter what.’”
It was widely considered a strategic move to a politically appropriate suburban address when the Clintons, on the eve of Mrs Clinton's 2000 Senate run, bought a Dutch colonial on Old House Lane for $1.7 million. Since then, Bill Clinton has gone from embattled president to Democratic icon and head of an international foundation. Mrs Clinton has gone from first lady to senator to presidential contender to secretary of state. Given Mrs Clinton's statements that she will step down next year whether or not President Obama is re-elected, there is inevitable speculation about where the Clintons will spend their time in their next phase. But despite gruelling travel schedules and being around less often than in the past, they have become remarkably involved with Chappaqua and its residents in a way that almost no one could have anticipated.
For most of the past decade, since Mrs Clinton has been working in Washington, the former president has been the more conspicuous of the two here. He orders a decaf venti at Starbucks (and always tips) and stops in at Lange's Little Store and Delicatessen and chats with everyone there. When Mrs Clinton is around, they go to movies at the Jacob Burns Film Center in neighboring Pleasantville and are reliable diners at local restaurants like the Chappaqua Restaurant and Cafe. Their chocolate Labrador retriever, Seamus, and toy poodle, Tally, are both groomed at Wags and Whiskers. The Clintons are both groomed at Santa’s Salon and Spa.
Every Christmas, Mr Clinton hops in the black Secret Service sport utility vehicle that ferries him around town and delivers gifts, with the greeting “Happy holidays from the Clintons” to businesses they frequent. Joan Ripley, the former owner of Second Story Book Shop, says the Clintons kept her store in business for several years by signing books for sale and having her store handle their local signings. She says she sold 3,500 copies of My Life, Mr Clinton’s autobiography, before the shop finally closed in 2009.
“He came in once a month or more,” Ripley says. “He’d just walk around sticking books under his arm and was happy to talk with anyone in the store. The nicest thing he did was, on the store’s last day, he made a special trip down to say goodbye. I thought that was astounding.”
Susan Carpenter, the town supervisor, says she is amazed by Mr Clinton’s awareness of specific efforts to bring in new businesses and by his interest in helping. She got the impression, she says, that he must be watching local cable access television of town board meetings.
“We’re trying to save things in the face of all these big national changes,” Mr Clinton says. “I just talked to the town supervisor. We lost our bookstore; we’re trying to get a bookstore back. We lost our supermarket; we’re trying to get a supermarket back. People here have an old-fashioned connection to the place, and that really means a lot to us. It's a great place to live.”
© 2012 The New York Times