- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. They're finally raising high the roof beam of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, a triumph over lawsuits, the slings and arrows of "Clinton-haters" (as his friends insist on calling his critics) and the pain of one-time union friends.
The landmark, which will extend over Mile 118.2 of the Arkansas River, will even have a tomb fit for a president.
Now comes the hard part: capturing the smoke-in-a-bottle legacy of the man from Hope supposedly the good and the bad as well as the ugly inside the glass and steel monument.
Even as the 42nd president of the United States submits to long "brain dumps" with museum designer Ralph Applebaum on what to show, the site foreman, Tom Jones, presides over the crew building the $100 million home for Clinton-related exhibits, complete with a replica of the Oval Office to be outfitted as it was on one day in August 2000.
"It will be rich with day-to-day objects across the desks and walls that really tell the story," says Mr. Applebaum, who does not specify the exact date of that month, in which President Clinton was staying out of the news as the conventions of both political parties nominated candidates to succeed him.
"A day later there would have been different documents, a new stack of books he was interested in, a painting he had switched out because he was interested in James Madison," says Mr. Applebaum.
The futuristic "glass-curtain" Clinton Library will extend from shore on stilts in a way intended to memorialize the "bridge to the 21st century" that Mr. Clinton evoked in his acceptance speech at his renomination in Chicago in 1996. The architect's drawing more closely resembles the wing of a space station as if anchored to the 28 acres of riverbank beside a rusty railroad bridge from the 19th century.
As with most things relating to Bill Clinton, his library project produces constant melodrama squabbles over whether the riverside site in what a local columnist whimsically calls Murky Bottom is a "park," over secret donors, the preservation of "historic" buildings, taxpayer subsidies and the effect on Little Rock's downtown revival.
"It has divided the community, but it's a huge gift to the city," says Little Rock Parks Director Bryan Day, who says city officials consider the project the catalyst spurring downtown development including 700 jobs in the new Acxiom Corp. building and night life in the River Market zone that was once a maze of abandoned turn-of-the-century buildings.
The boldness of the edifice is meant to reflect the tone of the presidency, says Skip Rutherford, president of the tax-exempt William J. Clinton Library Foundation.
The longtime loyalist is trying to raise $200 million to build and endow the museum and library, where a restored passenger depot of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad will host the Clinton School of Public Service under the auspices of the University of Arkansas. Mr. Rutherford talks at length about the school's curriculum and other Clinton projects, but avoids specifics about exhibits for the centerpiece museum.
"The study of the legacy of Clinton has yet to begin and there's so much history to be written before you write his epitaph," says the exuberant Mr. Rutherford, who describes himself as "the only Arkansan who stayed home" when White House jobs were offered.
Mr. Clinton's epitaph may literally be written here in "Contemplation Grove," a secluded stand of trees at the south end of the grounds. That site is designed to hold a small chapel and a burial facility worthy of a state funeral, complete with power and fiber-optic television transmission facilities. Mr. Day says burial would be allowed under Arkansas law even in a designated city park.
There's some timidity in discussing funeral arrangements for a man approaching only his 56th birthday. When he was asked where Mr. Clinton's wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, might be buried, he answered with a bit of a smirk: "At her own presidential library."

'One America'
For now, the focus remains on the centerpiece building and there are few clues about how Mr. Clinton will bridge the gulf between architectural goals and the approval of historians to which he aspires.
"We want to capture ideas, bookended by words to unravel the Clinton legacy, which really is trying to build 'One America,' trying to build one world, and trying to make an economic environment that would make a real difference," Mr. Applebaum says, prior to leaving for one of his frequent debriefings at the Clinton home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
"OK, Ralph," Mr. Clinton tells his exhibit consultant at those sessions. "Let's do a brain dump."
The designer, whose credits include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, sticks to the party line when asked how he plans to depict some of the administration's tackier moments.
"You just handle it," he replies, saying everything will be included in the 110-foot-long, two-story centerpiece exhibit displaying official schedules for each of Mr. Clinton's 2,923 days in the White House. That "timeline" frieze of words and images will dominate the 20,000-square-foot museum.
"In that agenda there was the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, an element of joyous celebration, and the tension of being in the world of politics. The goal is to put it all out, to have it all there."
Artists' sketches depict exhibits now being designed by his firm, Ralph Applebaum Associates of New York. The firm was selected in part because of Mr. Clinton's high regard for the Holocaust museum. Mr. Applebaum's other credits include the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Newseum, under constructionin Washington.
Certain to be included in the Clinton museum are statues of Socks, Chelsea Clinton's cat, as well as Buddy, the chocolate-colored pet Labrador killed by a car in January, along with tributes to Mr. Clinton's emphasis on the economy, Middle East peace overtures and efforts to create a racially harmonious "One America."

No Monica
Mr. Rutherford warns that visitors must reconcile themselves to hearing "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" as background music. The Fleetwood Mac tune from the 1970s was the theme song for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign.
But don't look here now or ever for Monica Lewinsky's signature beret or her famous stained blue dress. However, museum officials have promised a tasteful exhibit on the House impeachment and Senate acquittal of the only elected U.S. president in history. One local newspaper columnist, illustrating the sharply divided sentiment here, has suggested that someone put up a counter museum across the street, with the stained dress and the infamous cigars.
Mr. Clinton himself insists that there will be some of the embarrassing stuff. "Impeachment?" Mr. Clinton asked at a ceremonial groundbreaking six months before construction actually began. "Absolutely. What I did was a matter of record, but what I want is the whole record out."
The library already has staged two memorabilia previews, including the current display of 71 White House photographs that will continue until November at Hot Springs, Mr. Clinton's boyhood home, in the Ouachita Mountains 58 miles west of Little Rock.
Several artists' renderings and early projections suggest the Clinton library will draw particularly well among black tourists. Blacks overwhelmingly supported Mr. Clinton during his presidency; and novelist Toni Morrison called him "our first black president."
The few black entrepreneurs at River Market on President Clinton Avenue a brief stretch of Markham Street was renamed for the president after his supporters failed to get the entire street named for him discount such suggestions, saying they strive to reach every customer and play down the talk of an outpouring of visits by blacks.
"I don't think so. We appeal to diversity and we don't expect particularly many black tourists here. Maybe 10 percent," says Cynthia Eyiuche, a black woman whose 6-year-old business sells clothing, jewelry and crafts from Jamaica, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
Miss Eyiuche, who opened her shop long before a decision was made on where to build the library, says that Mr. Clinton seems instead to be a magnet for Japanese tourists.
"We're hopeful the presidential library will bring more business to the area," she says.
"This downtown renaissance was all moving before the library. I think that has probably speeded up some of it," says John Henry, managing editor of Arkansas Business, who notes that a new parking garage will be built to serve the area.
Other businesses on President Clinton Avenue also are doing well since announcement of the Clinton library. Sonny Williams' Steak House, for example.
"We have been full since the get-go, serving 170 to 250 dinners nightly," manager Terry Deese says, predicting that completion of the library will boost business even more. "We have nowhere else to go but up."
Locals dispute how much the library will help a city in which the key visitor "destination" has been Central High School, at West 14th Street and Park Avenue, a National Historic Site designated by the National Park Service. The school was the setting for a desegregation milestone in September 1957 when President Eisenhower dispatched paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division to join federalized Arkansas National Guardsmen to enforce the court-ordered admission of nine black children.
Mr. Rutherford won support by estimating the library will draw at least 300,000 visitors a year to the city. But even the low end of such estimates exceeds by 50 percent the turnout for any other presidential library museum once the initial enthusiasm subsided.
"The tourist estimates seem very high. I'm skeptical. It's a good thing and can benefit the city, but I think they're being pretty optimistic," Mr. Henry says. Indeed, some backers seem to imagine the library as something of a Disneyland.
"We want to bring people to this city with their pocketbooks full and then leave with them empty," says Barry L. Travis, head of Little Rock's Tourist and Visitors Bureau.
"We think Skip Rutherford's enthusiasm is pretty on target. We've got to plant seeds to grow things," Mr. Travis says. "President Clinton represents eight years of American history plus eight years of pretty wild stories out of the White House."
Surely some entrepreneur will pick up on that and emulate the Washington sex-spots tour and organize a Clinton crawl.
The library is just up the street from the old State House where Warren Christopher, who would become secretary of state, declared the start of "the most ethical administration in history." The State House is next door to what was the Excelsoir Hotel, where Paula Jones found herself in a room with a close-up view of a partially disrobed Mr. Clinton. The hotel was since gone to new owners, who gave it a multimillion-dollar face-lift and reopened it as the Peabody Little Rock. The library is not far from the Arkansas Supreme Court, whose Committee on Professional Responsibility disbarred Mr. Clinton for five years for lying under oath about the Lewinsky affair.

It's 'no Boston'
The big three presidential library draws last year were the John F. Kennedy Library at Boston's Columbia Point with 199,630 visitors at $8 each; the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., which had 196,699 visitors at $5 per adult; and the Lyndon Johnson Library at the University of Texas in Austin, with 181,629 visitors at no charge.
The Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta came in at the low end for post-World War II presidents, hosting 63,443 visitors at $5 each. By comparison, the privately operated Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., drew 147,043 visitors at $5.95 each.
Among attractions honoring pre-World War II presidents, the Herbert Hoover museum in West Branch, Iowa, last year drew 62,673 who paid $2 each.
"Nobody planned it like we're planning it," Mr. Rutherford says. "Little Rock is no Boston. Little Rock is no Atlanta. But it's not West Branch, Iowa, either. We're the largest metropolitan area in a small state."
Real estate executive Rett Tucker, whose company brokers or controls most downtown property in Little Rock, compares the plan for President Clinton Avenue to "a small Beale Street," referring to the blues and bars mecca in nearby Memphis.
"We're believers. The library is a huge plus that will get Little Rock on the radar screen," Mr. Tucker says.
His company recently sold out a $14-million building near Acxiom, offering a mixture of high-end loft apartments interspersed on other floors with condominium offices in a neighborhood almost everyone avoided five years ago.
"It looks like a no-brainer today, but when the decisions were made the crystal ball was not so clear," Mr. Tucker says.
Arguably, it is a misnomer to refer to the Clinton facility as a library; the place will be more of an information warehouse. Public records housed there will chronicle history's wordiest president, in an abundance unmatched at other presidential repositories. They include a mountain of paper, some 76.8 million pages, plus 40 million e-mails a whole new category of presidential files not collected in serious numbers by earlier administrations, according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
As is the custom, NARA will archive those files in the library, which will be adjacent to the museum. A mere 8 percent of the files will be cataloged in cases inside the museum itself to lend it the air of a real library, Mr. Applebaum says.
The bulk of presidential archives, managed by NARA, generally are visited only by researchers, authors and journalists seeking such details as handwritten notes on decision papers and what advisers wrote, among other documents not made public. The number of research visits last year ranged from 337 at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library to 4,120 who sought out the Nixon papers, which, unlike those of all other presidents since Herbert Hoover, are housed in NARA facilities in College Park, Md.
Unless the full release of papers promised by Mr. Clinton is blocked by a future president's order, researchers will find plenty to keep them busy. Tourists who pay in hopes of seeing racy insights likely will leave disappointed.
"It will be tasteful and professional," Mr. Rutherford says. "The public record is there. But I don't know how specific issues will be handled. I assume in much the same manner that Richard Nixon dealt with Watergate, Lyndon Johnson dealt with Vietnam and Ronald Reagan handled Iran-Contra."
The approach of the other presidential libraries to those bad-headline days has been slow and statesmanlike. "We don't have much on Iran-Contra," Reagan Library spokesman Jon Marshall says. "The research is here, but in public displays it's basically included within the historical context of the time period as part of the timeline. There is no separate exhibit."
To Mr. Rutherford an optimistic, 52-year-old public-relations man who takes no salary for foundation work it is a given that former presidents tell as much of their own side of the story as they choose.
"We think historically," he says during an extensive interview about efforts to raise $200 million to build the Clinton library and endow it with functions that the federal government won't control. "Most of the presidential libraries tend to not deal with problems from their administration as openly at first as they do later."

Money trail
Mr. Rutherford continues to refuse to discuss or confirm financial data, beyond supplying the foundation's 2001 report to the Internal Revenue Service showing $24.5 million received during the foundation's first four years through Dec. 31, 2001.
He does not contradict or confirm reports that financial pledges amount to $140 million of his $200 million goal, leaving it up to donors to announce their own plans. One of the few who has chosen to do so is Joe T. Ford, board chairman of Alltel, who said he pledged $1.2 million and paid it in two installments.
Reports compiled at www.tray.com by Political MoneyLine list Clinton library donors, including some first reported by The Washington Post in 1999, but amounts ascribed to those gifts add up to less than $50 million in pledges. And some of that is in doubt.
Potentially unfulfilled pledges include the $5 million to $10 million promised by Universal Studios Chairman Lew Wasserman, who died June 3; $1 million from Global Crossing Chairman Gary Winnick, whose firm is now in bankruptcy; and $450,000 from Denise Rich, whose fugitive ex-husband, Marc Rich, benefited from one of Mr. Clinton's last-minute pardons on Jan. 18, 2001.
Mr. Rutherford does make one brief exception from his rule not to comment on financial data when asked whether "pardon-related pledges evaporated" after the scandal broke. "No," he says, and quickly changes the subject to emphasize that his own fund-raising focuses on building a base of 75,000 repeat small donors while Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe recruits big-ticket donors. Other fund-raisers include Peter O'Keefe, Laura Hartigan, Thomas "Mack" McLarty and former Sen. Dale Bumpers, Arkansas Democrat.
"They do their best to keep it to themselves. It's certainly clear there is not a lot of documentation even for the 12 or 15 big donors McAuliffe said he had," Political MoneyLine's Kent Cooper says.
Other prominent names on Political MoneyLine's list of pledges include California financier Ron Burkle and University of California regent Haim Saban (each of whom promised $5 million to $10 million) and San Francisco real estate investor Walter Shorenstein (who promised $1 million).
As part of its latest IRS filing, the Clinton Foundation reports that as of Dec. 31, 2000, it had received $4.8 million from donors whose individual total gifts exceed $304,373. By that same date, another $9.8 million had come from more modest givers in what the IRS terms "public support."
That includes about 5,300 people who sent $100 each to place their names on granite paving blocks at the main entrance. This "Celebration Circle" driveway exhibit eventually will include 8,000 blocks, Mr. Rutherford says.

Outlays and e-mail
The money is being spent sparingly only $3 million last year, less than $5 million total by an organization with few staff expenses and no rent, but significant fund-raising costs.
The latest Internal Revenue Service report shows payments last year of $1.8 million to Polshek Partnership LLC, the library architect, and $701,457 to Mr. Applebaum's company for interior design. The foundation laid out $816,692 to direct-mail fund-raising specialists O'Brien McConnell Pearson and $231,415 for legal expenses to Williams & Connolly, both based in Washington.
The unpaid board headed by Mr. Rutherford includes foundation Vice President Ann Jordan of Washington, wife of Clinton golfing partner and confidant Vernon Jordan; former Sen. David Pryor, now a Harvard professor in Cambridge, Mass., who is spending a lot of time in Arkansas this summer trying to get his son, state Attorney General Mark Pryor, elected to his old seat in the Senate; former Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills, of New York; and Mr. McAuliffe of McLean, Va.
Global Crossing is still listed as a "partner" on the presidential library Web site, www.clintonpresidentialcenter.com. The extensive Web site includes a conglomerate of affiliated organizations ranging from an electronic "alumni" program (www.clintonstaff.com) to the International AIDS Trust and the American India Foundation, which raised $7 million for earthquake relief in Gujarat, India.
Overall, the Clinton Presidential Library will house more than 79,000 gifts and "artifacts," including 4,500 official gifts from abroad, along with the 76.8 million pages of official papers, 1.85 million photographs and 40 million e-mails.
The e-mails pose special problems for the archives administration, which is developing a system to review each message and create a practical search engine before the first ones are made available for review in January 2006.
Although a fraction of the papers already are technically available to researchers, including Health Advisory Committee files, the archives administration says it has not yet received the first on-site visit by a researcher.
When Mr. Clinton has been out of office for 12 years, all unclassified records may be released unless the president in office at the time exercises a veto. That's what President Bush did recently with Reagan-era records regarding the Iran-Contra matter.
The government declined to permit The Washington Times to visit the Clinton Papers Project, which is sorting papers and souvenirs in a 30-year-old abandoned Oldsmobile showroom and garage leased by the government for $1.5 million a year. A visit by a reporter and photographer would be disruptive, one official said.

'Take it to Harlem'
The Clinton library project has been widely lampooned on the Internet, where satire runs the gamut from a book called "The Clinton Liebrary" to depicting the facility as a ramshackle trailer in the path of a tornado and as a project covering three city blocks in Hope, Ark., financed by the sale of parking spaces.
Even after construction began in Little Rock, bitter fighting continues in state courts over the city's decision to invest some $12 million to buy and clear land then leased to the foundation to house the library in a park-like setting.
After shelving proposals that included a 1 percent "hamburger tax," the city floated a $16.5-million bond issue to be repaid from admissions to the city zoo, golf course and fitness center. The city spent $9 million to buy the tract and $3 million more to remove an old highway overpass, railroad tracks and warehouses. The rest was spent on projects unrelated to the Clinton library.
Nora Harris, a 69-year-old homemaker running for tax assessor, sued repeatedly over Little Rock's refusal to put the plan to a vote. She says she is not among those who oppose the project out of dislike for Mr. Clinton.
"There are people that I meet every day who say 'Put it somewhere else, let them take it to Harlem in New York,'" Mrs. Harris says, referring to the former president's choice for his official office suite after objections arose to space in a pricey midtown tower.
Trial of her suit is set for October, but a win for Mrs. Harris will mean only that the city must find another way to pay the bonds. It will not affect the library site.
"I think a lot of the opposition was just anti-Clinton, but a lot of it was that everytime you turn around the city was raising fees and taxes," Mrs. Harris says. "I have no qualms about the library being built, but I'd like for it to be built with individual contributions, not at the expense of the taxpayer who has no representation."
Real estate developer Gene Pfeifer says he filed his separate lawsuit to preserve the old railroad freight depot he owned, and because he opposes added debt for a city in financial straits.
"We raped our park system to pay for this thing," Mr. Pfeifer says.
His final appeal was rejected 6-0 by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which ruled Nov. 1 that Little Rock could condemn 2.9 acres of Mr. Pfeifer's warehouse site, pay the "fair market value" of $400,000, then lease it to the library as parkland.
"This site is adjacent to a section that's being turned into a strip of bars and restaurants, and perhaps that's where the Clinton library belongs," Mr. Pfeifer says with a trace of bitterness. "But my motivation in this lawsuit had nothing to do with Bill Clinton, or whether this library was a good idea."
One other legal speed-bump cost the Clinton Foundation an anticipated $3.62-million refund of Arkansas sales taxes on construction materials.
The state invited an application from the foundation under a business development program to encourage creation of jobs. Jim Pickens, director of the state Department of Economic Development, turned down the application on the grounds that a non-profit organization exempt from federal taxes is not a business and therefore not eligible for the tax rebate.
A department official said in an interview that the decision may be reviewed because it threatens other nonprofit organizations, including a huge charity project planned for construction on the adjoining riverside tract.
"We believe that we qualify for the program," Mr. Rutherford says. "Arkansas is shutting itself out to non-profits." If the decision stands, the foundation will have to pay the 5.1 percent sales tax on an estimated $70.6 million in materials required for the buildings.

The union flap
Construction was delayed because of a brawl with labor unions seeking support from a president widely viewed as a champion of unions. The Building Trades Council sought a guarantee that all construction workers would be members of a union.
After months of negotiations, the unions cut off contributions to the Democratic National Committee, at which point the foundation yielded. The final deal guaranteed 75 percent of workers would be union members and that everyone would be paid union scale.
Hard feelings remain among union leaders. Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Washington-based AFL-CIO unit that includes 14 building trades, told reporters that even Ronald Reagan, a union nemesis, built his library with union labor. "Our affiliated unions are furious at being treated this way by former allies, and most of them will continue their ban on contributions to the Democratic National Committee," Mr. Sullivan said after the deal was signed.
Mr. Clinton would not discuss the controversy. Ray Abernathy, spokesman for the union's 3 million members, insisted that the former president had pledged to Iron Workers President Joe Hunt and others April 4 that his library would be built only by union workers.
"This has been one of the stupidest acts of political hari-kari that I have ever witnessed," Mr. Abernathy said. "Their goal was to build it 100 percent non-labor and they failed. The loser on this is going to be the Democratic Party."
At 7 a.m. June 5, six months to the day after the official groundbreaking, 20 workers with huge backhoes and bulldozers began moving earth. Tom Jones, the construction manager, began counting the days to the November 2004 opening. On July 8, his crews began pouring steel-reinforced concrete support beams that extend 25 feet into the ground.
"We will make the deadline," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide