CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — While the world waits for Hillary Clinton to clear up the most asked and least pressing question in politics — will she or won’t she in 2016? — the answer in this small hamlet, where the former First Family keeps their adopted home, is already clear: She’ll run, and she’ll win.
The people who share Hillary and Bill Clinton’s place of rest — the kind of Westchester one-main-drag town, population 1,500, where footfalls run quiet on shaded streets; where OBAMA-BIDEN stickers get slapped to the back of every car; where the Horace Greeley High School basketball roster is on the wall of every restaurant, of every store; and where you’re told with pride that being from New York City, just 35 miles south, is not the same as “being from around here” — these people, the folks of small-town Chappaqua, are ready for the 67th secretary of state to “come home,” “rest up,” and get ready for a run in 2016.
“The town is on board,” said Dawn Greenberg, an unabashed supporter of both Clintons, and the owner of Aurora, a boutique on King Street, where most of Chappaqua’s shops are lined up one by one. “It’s heavily Democratic,” she added.
Greenberg hasn’t seen Hillary in her shop since October — “before the fall,” she adds with caution — and she’s not the only one. No townsperson has reported spotting the secretary since she left the state department earlier this month, and most haven’t seen her since her “fall” — when Clinton slipped, hit her head, and sustained a concussion that parked her two weeks later, the night before New Year’s Eve, in Columbia Presbyterian with a blood clot.
Chappaqua “definitely” wants to see another Clinton bid for the presidency in three years, said Greenberg, “but the main concern is with her health.”
“I think she’ll run,” said Pete Zimmerman, the owner of EZ Sports, an old-style athletic supply store for high schoolers. Field hockey and lacrosse sticks line the walls, and a beat-up Horace Greeley letter jacket from 40 years ago hangs across the door. Zimmerman has a “Hillary Clinton for Senate” sign from the 2000 campaign in the back of his shop that he’s “gonna break out when she runs.”
Even one Republican local, who keeps her politics quiet, approves of her neighbor’s possible political aspirations. “It’s hard to be on the other side of the fence in this town,” said the Chappaqua resident. “I don’t tell anybody. I keep my mouth shut. Not that I haven’t met other Republicans. But [the Clintons] are Democrats I like.”
Zimmerman added: “She’d be as good as anybody right now. This guy, Biden, I don’t want him to be president. He’s fine as vice president,” he said. “She’s the most qualified, and I think she’s great. But if she’s gonna do it, she’ll need to rest up because she’s been running around for the last four years.”
If Hillary is resting up at her Chappaqua home — a Dutch colonial on a tiny dead-end street no longer than a tenth of a mile — then she’s doing it without attracting notice.
Early Wednesday morning, Old House Lane is quiet. The Clinton home, which they purchased in 1999 for $1.7 million, is blocked from view by tall evergreens and a white fence that lines the property’s perimeter. For security, there’s an armed front gate, two floodlights, two cameras, and a dozen “No Parking TOW-AWAY ZONE” signs that don’t seem to regulate the two New York–plated SUVs, a Chevy Tahoe and Toyota Limited, standing vigil outside the house.
A neighbor down the street says the former First Family hasn’t caused her any inconvenience — “they’re great neighbors” — especially compared with the year the Clintons first moved in, when Bill was still in office.
“There was security at the beginning of the street. You’d have to stop and have them check your car for bombs every single time you pulled in and out,” she says. Another neighbor, whose house is directly adjacent to the Clintons’, knows the drill without having to be asked. “I just never give interviews,” he says. “I like to respect their privacy.”
At 11:15 a.m., a sign of life.
A dinky Corolla — black, ’90s series, with a “Basilico Pizza” marquee lit up on the roof — rolls up to the white fence. The car idles for a moment, still running, before a plainclothes secret service member emerges from a back door, walks along the front of the house, opens the front gate, just ajar, and slips through to grab his loot: pasta fagioli (a bean dish in chicken broth and tomato sauce) and an order of fried calamari.
The deliveryman, unfazed, wagers later that the order was probably for the Secret Service guys. “They order every day,” he says. “Usually when Hillary Clinton comes, they order a lot of food. Like, 10 sandwiches — at least a $100 order.” Basilico Pizza, an Italian restaurant in neighboring Mount Kisco, gives the Clintons and their staff the same 50% discount available to members of the police department.
“I think she likes the Tuscan Chicken,” he adds.
Clinton’s lunch order is a detail others in town might be reticent to share. The people of Chappaqua, many of whom grew up here, are at once effusive and indifferent about their chance encounters with Hillary and Bill inside city limits. Most have a story — “the time I met him” or “the time I saw her” — preserved in the recesses of memory, but almost all have the routine of nonchalance down pat. Chappaqua knows how to live with the Clintons.
“They’re people like we are, and they want to go shopping and do their thing around town,” shrugged Vicki Lange Bergstrom, a staffer at Lange’s Little Store, the one-stop deli where the former president sometimes gets his coffee and chats up the guys behind the counter. “When you see them, it’s like an unwritten rule here. You can say hi and ask them how they’re doing, but you don’t swarm them.”
Chappaqua residents are seasoned regulars too, with the occasional moment in the spotlight. In 2011, on ABC’s The View, Bill Clinton announced, perhaps by accident, that in two days he’d be signing copies of his new book, Back to Work, at the little Chappaqua library. Within hours, the library was inundated with callers from about every area code but Westchester County’s. “The library’s phones started lighting up from all over,” the library’s director, Pamela Thornton, told Inside Chappaqua at the time. “People called from Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, all over the country.” The book signing lasted three hours, and all 500 attendees left with a handshake and an autographed copy of Back to Work.
Other corners of the community haven’t been as accommodating. About four years ago, the local country club wouldn’t let the Clintons become members because of the hassle it might cause on the links. “People in country clubs are very private, and every time [Bill Clinton] would have to have Secret Service people all over the golf course,” Zimmerman said, relating the story that’s been passed around town, “it would just slow everyone down.” (The Clintons joined Donald Trump’s club one town over in Briarcliff instead.)
But despite the inconvenience of a rare brush with the national media, or with the one or two Secret Service who follow the Clintons around town, Chappaqua doesn’t want the former First Family to leave.
“She’s coming back after she leaves D.C., right? Why would she hang out there?” Greenberg worried. What allays her concerns about the Clintons packing up from Old House Lane — they are reportedly looking at properties in the Hamptons — is that Hillary, she said, keeps her internist in Mount Kisco, and that Bill in particular “has made the town his own,” she said.
Hillary is hard to spot, but her husband is out on walks almost every day that he’s in town, often to Starbucks — a social nerve center at the corner of King Street and Greeley Avenue — to stand in line for his venti decaf. (Hillary almost never comes in, the baristas say; in the six years one has been there, he’s seen her just two or three times.) Other favorite Bubba stops include Santa’s Salon for a haircut, and Zimmerman’s sports store, for custom-made T-shirts. “He’ll want a ‘70’ on his shirt for a guy’s 70th birthday. Stuff like that,” said Zimmerman.
“He’s a walker,” said Bergstrom. “He walks all over the place. With Secret Service, obviously.”
On Christmas Eve, he made a stop through multiple shops on King and Greeley to buy last-minute gifts — from Aurora, about $150 worth of presents, paid for in cash — and to deliver his own, a box of brownies from Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, to storekeepers in return.
President Clinton isn’t shy about saying hey, taking a picture, slapping a back, or shaking a hand; photos of the former president posing with staff are a mainstay on the walls or under the glass counters of Chappaqua’s stores.
He’s Chappaqua’s “pied piper,” said resident Connie Steinberg.
“Once I was at the supermarket up the street. It was during President Obama’s first term, when he was trying to pass health care,” said Steinberg, “There must have been six high school kids surrounding him. He was explaining the health-care bill to them in the supermarket.”
Greenberg said that Hillary has been in her store once or twice, but that “Bill is the bigger shopper.”
Linda DeMase, who works at King Street’s toy store, Auntie Penny, has her own theory. “When Chelsea has a baby, we’ll start seeing more of Hillary in here,” she joked.
With whatever excuse sets their minds at ease — Hillary’s internist, or Bill’s walks, or Chelsea’s future child — the residents of Chappaqua stay hopeful that, for now, the Clintons will stick around town.