- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

NEW YORK — Former President Bill Clinton went home to Harlem yesterday, embracing this storied black enclave for its past electoral loyalty.
But while some treated him as a returning conqueror, others said it was just another case of "there goes the neighborhood."
The former president officially opened his new office on 55 W. 125th St. and attended an outdoor celebration that had all the red-white-and-blue markings of a political rally.
"Now I feel like I'm home," he told a cheering crowd. "You voted for me in 1992 and 1996. You voted for Hillary in 2000. You were there on the darkest days and the best days."
Harlem was Mr. Clinton's second choice in which to hang his hat as a past president. He had planned to move into a deluxe penthouse on West 57th Street that would have cost taxpayers more than $800,000 a year, but he pulled out after a public outcry and went uptown to a 14-story building in Harlem where the rent, with improvements, is estimated at $354,000.
Mr. Clinton was expected to walk the two blocks from his office to the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Office Building Plaza where assorted officials, including former Mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, awaited his arrival.
However, the former president eluded the crowds outside his office, including several people in wheelchairs, by ducking out the back exit.
About two hours late, he ascended the platform in the plaza where many had waited for hours, to cheers of "We want Bill."
In his remarks, Mr. Clinton asserted that he wanted to be a good neighbor and that he realizes property values are rising, but said, "I don't want the small-business people to be run out because I'm coming in."
As a youngster, Mr. Clinton added, he had dreamed of playing his saxophone at the Apollo Theater just down the street, hinting that such a gig might still be a possibility "before it's over."
Noting a sign in the audience reading, "What did you do for Harlem when you were president?" Mr. Clinton replied that he had raised more than $600 million in investments for the Harlem empowerment zone, turned the economy around and cut welfare and unemployment in half.
"I think I kept my word to Harlem," he said.
"Harlem always struck me as a place that was human and alive, where there was a rhythm to life and a song in the heart," he concluded. "You were always there for me, and I will try to be there for you."
There was no shortage of criticism at yesterday's festivities from those who saw opportunism rather than benevolence in Mr. Clinton's arrival.
Lloyd Bethune, 66, wearing orange-and-blue African dress, said, "Clinton doesn't belong in Harlem. The rents are going to go sky high. He and Rangel ought to be horsewhipped for giving back the Apollo Theater to white folk."
Mr. Rangel stepped down as Apollo board chairman after he was accused of mismanaging the theater's finances in 1998. Time Warner now controls the landmark theater.
Anthony Fleming, 45, a New York Transit Authority worker who was wearing a T-shirt souvenir from the 1995 Million Man March, said he already sees troublesome signs of Harlem's gentrification.
"They've been renovating and restoring, but even the workers on the buildings don't live in the neighborhood," he said. "They're white, and they live in Bensonhurst [Brooklyn]."
Alexander Garner, an elderly man in a straw hat, said he likes the idea of Mr. Clinton working in the neighborhood, but he linked Mr. Clinton and his affair with former intern Monica Lewinsky to the scandal-plagued Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat.
"They should hang out together," Mr. Garner said. "I don't like him and Monica his behavior when he was in office."
Like many businessmen along 125th Street, barber Henry Arrio said it is a plus for the neighborhood. "I think other politicians should jump on their coattails and consider Harlem as another place to hang their hats."
Lloyd Williams of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce also sees the new office as a good political decision for the former president.
"If he were moving to 57th Street and Sixth Avenue, certainly there would not be this media frenzy so ultimately he becomes the beneficiary because it keeps his name in the forefront of the urban agenda."
At the dilapidated Church of the Living God Pentecostal church just up from Mr. Clinton's office, Wesner Pierre was happy about the former president's move, saying that his presence will drive up the value of the church property.
"Clinton is not a negative," the 20-year-old parishioner said.
At the McDonald's restaurant two doors up from No. 55, manager Patricia Rowland, well aware of the former president's addiction to fast food, was hoping that Mr. Clinton would drop in. Instead, he attended a reception at the upscale Sylvia's Restaurant around the corner, a favorite of New York politicos.
"I know he'll come here one day," said Miss Rowland with a trace of wistfulness in her voice.
The Clinton homecoming was preceded by a rush of media coverage, including the tale of a bakery up the street from the former president's office that is selling huge white cakes decorated with his photograph. Price: $1,000.
Even Hillary Clinton five-grain waffles — going for a mere $6.95 at Amy Ruth's — made the evening news.
But although journalists predicted crowds would be in the thousands, about 500 people showed up to stand on the welcome mat. An estimated 600,000 people live in Harlem, a Manhattan neighborhood from 105th Street north to 155th Street and between the East and Hudson rivers.
The former president is expected to have a staff of 10 and will occupy 8,300 square feet of office space on a 10-year lease.
The building stands in the center of what was regarded as an urban wasteland 30 years ago. With the infusion of $140 million so far, the Harlem renaissance is attracting new chain stores as well as white residents. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, created by a federal initiative in 1994, spearheaded the transformation.
"Harlem right now is H-O-T," said Amanda Jones of Douglas Elliman Realty, adding that the upward trend had started before Mr. Clinton decided to move there. Barbara Betran, a Harlem resident aspiring to purchase a home, said: "I live in this area, but I really can't afford to buy or stay here." Realtors say prices for two-bedroom homes range between $185,000 and $200,000.

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