Candidate Clinton comes to Silicon Valley

Hillary cuts the "virtual ribbon" on a new Web company and shakes down dot-com millionaires for their support.

Published March 30, 2000 9:00AM (EST)

It was the ultimate old-style politicking meets the New Economy photo-op. At the Women's Technology Cluster in San Francisco on Wednesday, first lady Hillary Clinton stood next to a computer monitor in a room packed with more media than audience members, while Tiffany Bass Bukow, founder of talked up her site. But it was the entrepreneur who clicked on the virtual ribbon to launch the site; Clinton looked on with a smile, never touching the mouse. These things were so much easier when there were physical shovels involved.

In a roundtable discussion, Clinton quizzed the business incubator's entrepreneurs about the challenges they'd faced in starting their dot-coms. As everyone in the room was well aware, female entrepreneurs get a fraction of the venture capital that's surging into new companies, with estimates ranging from just 4 percent to 6 percent annually.

"What were the biggest obstacles you faced?" queried Clinton. Hagit Glickman, founder of recalled that one potential investor told her, condescendingly: "Well, that's a sweet idea."

But like well-trained salespeople, the entrepreneurs seemed less interested in talking up the hardships they'd faced on the road to getting funded than in pitching their businesses.

Among the media horde in the back, there was a collective sigh of relief when Clinton stopped playing the roll of interested listener and came out with this delicious sound bite: "It's the new girls' networks." One reporter muttered under his breath: "finally," as pens scratched madly.

Later the first lady picked up San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's over-the-top endorsement of candidate Clinton's Senate bid -- "There's more talent packed in Hillary than in many of us in public life put together!" he crowed. Then, Clinton gave a short speech praising the cluster's model of combining entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and promised: "I'm going to tell the people in Silicon Alley that California is a step ahead when it comes to empowering women in the New Economy." Surely, the fund-raising folks back in New York will be overjoyed to hear that.

Then, it was off to Atherton, Calif., for a $2,000-per-head fund-raising cocktail reception at the home of Steve Westly, a senior vice president at eBay. In true Internet-money fashion, the house was so new that the lawn hadn't been put in, and the host thanked and introduced the designer in his introductory remarks. The room was thick with eBay Democrats and other assorted dot-commies.

It was remarkable how Clinton loosened up once she'd been released from the media bubble at the cluster where every move and remark was staged, photographed and recorded. She worked the crowd, shaking hands and posing for snapshots, and made a stump speech perched on the family's staircase. If the Senate doesn't work out, there's always eBay.

Then, it was off to Steve Jobs' house to meet more donors (more generous donors) for dinner. Even though she's running for a New York Senate seat, Clinton's happy to lend herself to Californians in exchange for a little Silicon Valley green.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton Silicon Valley Steve Jobs