By Tina Susman and Vera Haller, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
NEW YORK — Clinton, meet Clinton.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, that is, the presidential contender whose decision to base her campaign headquarters in a building abutting Clinton Street has stirred some excitement in a place that prides itself on being as cool as an artisanal cucumber: Brooklyn.
“The road to the White House is clearly paved through our borough,” Carlo A. Scissura, the president and chief executive of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, crowed after news spread that the Clinton campaign had rented space across the East River from Manhattan.
Scissura called Brooklyn the obvious place for an aspiring president to set up shop, saying it boasts a diverse population and “cool points no other city can match.”
But the neighborhood where Clinton’s campaign is centered, Brooklyn Heights, is more haute than hip, with leafy streets lined with historic brownstones, clusters of camera-toting tourists and a riverside promenade offering spectacular views of Manhattan.
And the building in which Clinton’s headquarters is based is a sterile-looking high-rise that is also home to the Morgan Stanley investment firm and to the offices of Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and President Barack Obama’s choice as the next attorney general.
Still, any time a presidential candidate moves into the neighborhood, it’s bound to lead to speculation as to why he or she chose the spot.
On “Inside City Hall,” a political talk show on the local all-news station NY1, pundits this month debated whether the choice was based on convenience or on a misguided attempt to appeal to the plaid-shirted, goateed crowd.
The Democrats speculated that the choice was practical, not political.
“She did sign a lease in the least cool and least hip part of Brooklyn,” said Risa Heller, a PR executive who served as communications director under two previous New York governors. “I live there, I know. There is nothing going on. Nothing.”
But Heller called it a “super convenient spot” because of its proximity to Manhattan, just over the Brooklyn Bridge or via several subway lines serving the neighborhood.
The Republicans on the show suggested Clinton was dipping her toe into Brooklyn rather than choosing an office building in midtown or lower Manhattan, where much of the city’s commerce is based, because she wanted to seem hipper than she is, without venturing too deep into the borough.
Brooklyn Heights, they said, would not fool anyone, even if Lena Dunham and Bjork call it home.
“She’s not cool and hip, as she was trying to make the signing of a Brooklyn Heights office space seem,” Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist, said of Clinton. Del Percio said the Brooklyn office would not hurt Clinton, but she said it also would not help show voters who she is and what she stands for.
“She has to offer up something substantial,” Del Percio said.
Whatever her reasons, Clinton is in a neighborhood accustomed to famous faces, where actors who live here or whose shows shoot on the picturesque streets are regulars in cafes and stores.
That should allow Clinton to wander the streets relatively ignored should she decide to take in sights that include the former homes of Truman Capote, Arthur Miller and W.H. Auden, or the Plymouth Church, where Henry Ward Beecher preached and where fleeing slaves sought refuge.
Residents picking up vegetables and baked goods at the neighborhood’s farmers market last weekend were generally blase about the arrival of a presidential campaign.
“How much do you actually see candidates when they’re running a national campaign?” asked Amanda Sutphin, 44, an archaeologist for the city of New York who lives in Brooklyn Heights. “They’re always traveling.”
Her friend, Elisa Arce, 46, of nearby Carroll Gardens, who works in banking, also predicted little impact on neighborhood life besides the addition of television news trucks, which had already arrived.
“We’ll see a lot more journalists,” she said with a laugh. “We’ll definitely get a lot more media attention.”
Residents had their own theories about why Clinton chose Brooklyn Heights. Another farmers market shopper, Daniel Wheir, 43, a television editor, said the location makes sense from a geographical perspective. The Clintons live in a northern suburb, Chappaqua, former President Bill Clinton has an office in Harlem in northern Manhattan and now, with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Brooklyn, “they’ve got New York covered,” he said.
Wheir also noted that Brooklyn Heights is just across the East River from the city’s financial center and its potential donors. “I’m sure its proximity to Wall Street is enticing,” he said.
Brooklyn Heights is known for its neighborly atmosphere, which was on display as residents with children and dogs in tow filled the sidewalks.
If Clinton were in the mood to mingle with her neighbors or shop for her baby granddaughter, she might wander a couple of blocks to the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, a nonprofit started in 1854 that carries everything from children’s clothes to scented soaps handcrafted by women and sold on consignment.
If she does, she’ll find an unabashed fan, manager Elizabeth Rueckerl-Betteil, whose customers have included Bjork, the Icelandic singer.
“I may actually have to change my party affiliation for her,” Rueckerl-Betteil, a Republican, said of Clinton. “I would do it. I think she’s great. She’s a very strong woman in a man’s world.”
As she spoke, Rueckerl-Betteil showed off the soft stuffed animals and toddler’s clothes she thought the would-be president might pick for her granddaughter. She speculated about the good, or the bad, of having a presidential candidate in the neighborhood while stroking a pink spotted toy giraffe.
On one hand, Rueckerl-Betteil and a couple of volunteers working the cash register said it would be nice to draw more business to the neighborhood. On the other hand, they agreed it’s possible to have too much of a good thing if it makes life harder for locals.
Some residents welcomed the opportunities the campaign may bring. Jim West, 60, a puppeteer who lives in Brooklyn Heights, is a Clinton supporter who said he would look into volunteering since the campaign was so close. “We’re thrilled. We’re really looking forward to the next year and a half,” he said.
The Packer Collegiate Institute, a private school with 1,030 students from preschool through Grade 12, also perceived benefits.
“It presents a really good opportunity for politically interested kids to become engaged in the campaign,” said Bruce Dennis, the headmaster. “If anyone needed further affirmation that Brooklyn is the center of the universe, this is it.”
One thing everyone can agree on is that Clinton the candidate hopes to fare better than Clinton the man for whom Clinton Street was named. That would be DeWitt Clinton, a New York mayor and governor who failed in his 1812 bid to become president.
Photo: 1 Pierrpont Plaza via Facebook