What the Neighbors Say: A Visit to the Clintons' Home Town

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In the hamlet of Chappaqua in New York's affluent Westchester County, people have never become jaded about their most famous neighbors, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Well-wishers swarm them after the parade on Memorial Day: dozens of people jostling on the neat lawn by Chappaqua's train station, shaking hands, taking pictures, posing enthusiastic questions about world affairs. "We're not really royal-watchers," says a sheepish Chappaqua resident, Mike Bass, once he's done snapping photos. But, sure, it is exciting, he says. "How many former Presidents are there? And how many are still alive, and how many are still walking around?"

In a town of just 4,400 households, where news of Clinton "sightings" travels quickly from one end of downtown to the other (just three ritzy shop-lined blocks), any Bill or Hillary outing could become public knowledge. But the Clintons, especially Bill, still trek around town regularly. Nearly everyone has a story about greeting the charismatic former President (the "nicest guy in the world," according to a manager at the Clintons' local deli, Lange's), being in a store when a Clinton came in (the duo has visited nearly all of Chappaqua's shops and restaurants), or just watching Bill stroll by on one of his frequent walks (always with Secret Service agents alongside and often with the Clinton dog, Seamus). Both Clintons play public figures everywhere they go: gracious, attentive, approachable. That's probably why — even among those angered by the Clintons' politics or infidelity in the White House — in Chappaqua there is nary a bad word to be said about either of them.

The former President is still the superstar. People follow him into shops when they see him walking around, townsfolk say. On a day like Memorial Day, when both Clintons appear together at the end of the parade route, he draws by far the bigger crowd.

But the Senator, who works in Washington, strives for quality time with her fellow Chappaquans. She concentrates her limited time in town on organized events. She presided at the swearing-in of Janet Wells, town supervisor of New Castle (which includes Chappaqua) both times Wells was elected to that post. There's the citizenship induction she led as First Lady, the storytime for tots she held the day she picked up her public-library card, the reading from her memoirs. Earlier this year the Chappaqua School Foundation gave Hillary its inaugural "It Takes a Village" award (named after the senator's 1996 book), largely because they thought hosting a celebrity would attract donors to the foundation's annual fundraising dinner. They were impressed with the Senator's follow-through: She arrived early, spoke at length with teachers and students, and gave an impassioned 20-minute speech on the importance of education.

So far, however, the Clintons haven't put down roots in the town, at least in the conventional way. They seem to have few close friends here, and no regular church. But Chappaqua is well-suited to them. It keeps a pleasant hometowny charm, and yet is indisputably affluent and worldly. It's home to many successful executives working in nearby New York City. Here in Chappaqua, even with a tall security fence and Secret Service vehicles parked outside, the Clintons' Dutch Colonial (bought in 1999 for $1.7 million) can seem modest. "This is not a gossipy town," says Janet Stephens, a local artist who stopped on parade day to get an "update" of her year-old photo with Bill Clinton. "It's a Type A town," she says. And it's a predominantly Democratic one at that.

Perhaps that's why, despite initial traffic snarls and security inconveniences, Chappaqua has adapted so easily to the Clintons' presence. "There's a real sense of pride now, of propriety," says Andrea Klausner, president of the Chappaqua School Foundation. And if there's one thing nearly everyone in town is keen to tell you, it's that the Clintons' arrival has put their little hamlet on the map. "You used to say, 'Chappaqua,' and people would ask, 'Is that where Kennedy drove off the bridge?'" says George Haletzky, a manager at Lange's who has lived in town since 1961. "It was a quiet, sleepy town and now it's not."