It was the type of civic/political event guaranteed to draw a healthy crowd from among the Upper East Side's moneyed classes: the dedication Wednesday of a new family center at the 92nd Street Y, a fashionable gathering place for cultural and literary events on Lexington Avenue. An added attraction was that the woman who would be the junior U.S. senator from New York was there, to be interviewed in the auditorium by Charlie Rose.
Rose spent much of the evening lobbing a combination of softballs and intriguing questions designed to get Hillary Rodham Clinton to differentiate herself from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, her likely opponent. Rose rarely followed up with questions that would have required an improvised response from Clinton -- and he also avoided his peculiar "I'm so interested in you that I'm going to talk about you even more than you do" style of interviewing.
Clinton -- sitting back in a comfy chair, hair flipped upward, wearing a dark, double-breasted suit that revealed the flared collar of a pink blouse -- employed her patented, oh-so-patient style of listening (eyes scrunched, slowly nodding along with her questioner) and stayed on message.
She said she had never before considered running for office, had once had doubts about how good a candidate she would be and was extremely grateful for the past seven years -- despite periods that she "wouldn't wish on anybody." Clinton refused to say whether she was a Yankees or a Mets fan and sidestepped a question about running for president someday: "I have learned that senators have a whole lot more privacy than presidents," she explained. And she said some good had come out of her husband's impeachment: "We protected and saved the Constitution," Clinton declared.
After acknowledging that she and Giuliani agree on several hot-button issues -- they're both pro-gun control and pro-choice -- she said that the dividing lines between the two are simple: On public education, Giuliani has supported using vouchers for private schools, and she's against such a plan; and on the economy (this was less clear), the mayor has endorsed George W. Bush, who supports a bad federal budget plan.
And what is the one issue at the core of her candidacy? Rose asked.
"I believe every child deserves a chance to have the best life possible, and that means that their parents should have good jobs with good wages and that their schools should provide good educations and they should have the health care that they need."
Then, nearing the end of the evening, after roughly an hour of such responses from Clinton, Rose launched the one surprise of the evening:
"So, how come this marriage survived all this?" he asked.
The audience let out a collective groan.
But Clinton seemed only slightly taken aback. She took a breath before replying:
"You know, because we really love each other and we're very committed to our life together. And it's been, you know, an incredible 25 years."
The audience offered loud applause, grateful that an embarrassment in their presence had been avoided.
Rose interjected: "Never boring."
"Ha, ha, never boring," Clinton said almost wistfully. "That's true, that's true."