That Old Clinton Spirit is Back

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • February 27, 1999

by Karen Feld

That old Clinton spirit is back at The White House even with a last minute glitch in party plans. What happens when you’re President Clinton and you’ve planned an important State Dinner for Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings and entertainer Patti LaBelle calls in sick at the last minute? The First Lady’s staff calls her friend, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds to intercede. “They wanted me but I need major preparation. I would rehearse a year if I got a call from The White House,” explained Babyface, who with Mrs. Clinton worked at “Save The Music Foundation.” Babyface came to the rescue by calling jazz saxophonist Najee to fill in, no easy feat when the dinner competes with the Grammy Awards. Since the White House was unfamiliar with Najee, the social staff rushed out to buy his CD for the First Lady’s approval. He even passed muster with fellow saxophonist Bill Clinton. Energy permeated the jubilant crowd in the East Room. After all, the black cloud of impeachment has lifted. Babyface, who opted for The White House over the Grammy’s in L.A., explained “I thought it would be funner (stet) to come here.” And it was. Everyone was chattier and freer than usual with hugs and kisses in the receiving line. So much so that Eunice Kennedy Shriver had plenty time to primp and brush her unruly hair right in line. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said, “He’s my president and this is my country,” to which Bill Clinton responded: “You tell ’em Sheila.” President Clinton gave baseball legend Hank Aaron a big hug, and told him, “I’m a huge fan of yours.” He’s also a fan of Cheryl Mills, whom he greeted with a big kiss. Introducing her to President Rawlings, he exclaimed “This is my lawyer. You saw her on television.”

President Rawlings, who made no secret that he was in Washington to encourage foreign investment in Ghana, related a story about Stevie Wonder, the blind singer/composer, who once flew his ten passenger airplane, landing it on a narrow airstrip. “I took off and handed Stevie the controls. The sensitivity of his hands was unbelievable,” said President Rawlings. “All I did was pull back the power.”

Dr. Dean Ornish, the health guru who advises Mrs. Clinton on the First Couple’s diet, said the dinner menu (grilled yellowtail snapper) was “both healthful and delicious”, calling it a “prevention diet.” No comment on the truffled lobster fricassèe. President Clinton barely had a chance to sample the snapper, since he and opera singer Denyce Graves chatted non-stop over dinner. Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green also sat at the President’s table.

Actress Cicely Tyson dined with Mrs. Clinton. “We talked about everything. . . BUT. . .” she related to me as the evening drew to a close. On Mrs. Clinton’s possible Senate candidacy, Ms.Tyson, a New York voter, said “She should do it in a hurry.” Insiders there said “no” senate race, but Mrs. Clinton is enjoying basking in the positive press. The Democrats need her to help elect Al Gore president and to win back the Congress. And plans are underway for her trip to Morocco, Indonesia and Egypt in March. This weekend the First Family celebrates Chelsea’s 19th birthday at Dreamworks mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Utah ski house.

Actress Angela Bassett was at The White House for the first time although she played a presidential adviser in the film, “Contact.” “That was all make believe,” she said. “This is the real deal.” Actor Courtney Vance took time off the set of “Detox” to accompany his wife. He’s shooting the film in Vancouver with Sly Stallone, whom he called “a kind man.”

Poet Maya Angelo summed up the occasion: “It’s very fitting that you have two young men who have great hopes for their countries. Both are very courageous and both have brilliant wives to help them.” In fact when President Rawlings’ term is up in 2000, he can’t run again. He told President Clinton, “Mr. President, I feel your pain.” There is even talk of his wife, Nana Konado Agyeman-Rawlings, running for his seat.

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