- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Former President Bill Clinton decided yesterday enough was enough and shifted his pursuit of suitable New York office space from an $811,000 penthouse on elegant West 57th Street to a modest 14-story building in the heart of Harlem.

Mr. Clinton's new choice, farther uptown than has been considered fashionable since Fidel Castro angrily decamped to the Theresa Hotel in 1960, is on Harlem's main street at 55 W. 125th St. between Lenox and Fifth avenues, far from upscale shops like Prada.

But the man who voiced pride when novelist Toni Morrison called him the nation's "first black president" will be close to the famed Apollo Theater, and there is a Starbucks right next door.

The new digs promise not to be boring, considering the multicultural diversity of the people living in the building. The area 15 blocks north of Central Park is predominantly populated by blacks and Hispanics of Puerto Rican ancestry.

The Washington Times was told by a source privy to the negotiations that agents for Mr. Clinton were in talks for a lease at about $26.50 a square foot in the Vietnam-era structure.

That cost would be almost $2 per square foot less than the government is paying to temporarily warehouse Mr. Clinton's official papers in Little Rock, Ark.

Mr. Clinton's original choice, a 56th-floor penthouse, was so pricey at $811,000 a year upward of $80 a square foot that the former president offered to contribute $300,000 a year from money donated to build and endow his presidential library in Little Rock.

The privately owned Harlem office building hosts an assortment of government branch offices close to the people they serve, including aid for homeless families, a methadone maintenance clinic, the Internal Revenue Service, veterans' service offices for medical and psychiatric needs, and the Office of Lesbian & Gay Concerns, part of the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Occasionally, the area outside the building has been the focus of demonstrations, including last summer's Vieques Solidarity Rally attempting to get the U.S. Navy to permanently abandon its target range at Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Like all former presidents, Mr. Clinton is entitled to lifelong Secret Service protection, and the agency's views on the selection was not known last night.

The General Services Administration (GSA) said last night that Mr. Clinton's staff, besieged by public criticism since the ex-president announced his decision to rent a chic Manhattan office, notified them "that they no longer plan to seek office space for the former president at Carnegie Hall Tower at 152 West 57th Street… . GSA was also informed that the office will notify the agency with official designation of the former president's office location soon."

"He wanted to go to a place where he could be a good neighbor and be welcomed by the neighborhood as well," Julia Payne, a spokeswoman for Clinton's Washington transition office, said yesterday.

Miss Payne said Mr. Clinton was looking at about 8,000 square feet on West 125th Street.

Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican and the chief critic in Congress of the extravagant Carnegie Hall Tower site, said last night he was glad that Mr. Clinton was sensitive to the public outcry.

"I hope this will be a much more reasonable price for the American taxpayer and I know Harlem will be proud to have another globetrotter," Mr. Istook said. "I'm pleased that Mr. Clinton was listening to what the public was saying, and I know we'll all be just as interested in the new details."

If GSA already knows those details on the Harlem building, it could not discuss them because of a ban on commenting about "procurement-sensitive" information while the bargaining process is still in progress.

Officials of CRG Management, operator of the building, did not respond to calls yesterday on the negotiations, but a woman answering the landlord's phones last night said CRG Chairman Arthur Stern was taking calls.

Asked whether she would confirm Mr. Clinton's selection of the Harlem building for his official offices, the woman replied, "Not at this moment, officially."

A guard in the building lobby told a reporter last night that, to his knowledge, Mr. Clinton had not visited but that the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Brooklyn pastor-politician who once ran for the U.S. Senate, dropped by to take a look around.

The guard also allowed a crew from MSNBC, which first reported the story, to broadcast live from the lobby at dinner hour.

"I never had so many people smile at me all in one day," the guard said.

Former presidents are entitled to government office space for life. Mr. Clinton's original midtown choice would have cost more than offices currently used by former presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush combined.

Mr. Clinton's decision to abandon his original office choice in the face of public criticism followed the disclosure of Philip Purcell, chairman of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., which paid the former president more than $100,000 last week for his first speech since leaving the White House, that he had told clients that the investment house "clearly made a mistake" by inviting Mr. Clinton to speak.

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