Two Presidents: Toasting the Promise of South Africa

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • May 24, 2000

by Karen Feld

It was quite a night chez Clinton, all in honor of Thabo Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa. Some 360 guests – politicians, entertainers, and contributors to Mrs. Clinton’s (better known as Hillary!) Senate race – were transported by trolley from The White House to an 80 by 130 foot tented pavilion on the South Lawn. The State Dinner, the first of three scheduled for African nations, was second in size only to that for the President of Ireland (520 guests). Despite Hillary’s hectic campaign schedule, she found time to get involved in dinner plans, personally selecting the table settings and floral arrangements – made with 48 flowers in shades of pink. Concert pianist Awadagin Pratt entertained with numbers off his “Live from South Africa” album. “It’s wonderful that the South Africans are where they are now,” said Pratt.

Actor Theodore Bikel wore a red ribbon pin in support of AIDS. Although President Mbeki’s views on the dreaded disease are controversial, Bikel, who heads the actors union, says he wouldn’t picket the White House after dinner as he remembered Dr. Spock doing during the Kennedy administration. . . He wasn’t the only one who’s view on the subject differed from those of the guest of honor. Diane Stevens, president of “Natural Face New York,” wore a beaded pin made by an HIV positive woman to support the cause. “I work on the grass roots level,” she explained. “So I’ll reserve comment. I don’t want to get involved in the politics of it.”

But the topic “A” was the New York Senate race. Mrs. Clinton, looking very “Manhattan-chic” in a black Pamela Dennis dress, appeared confident on the outside, but whispered to one guest in the receiving line: “Rudy was our best friend. We’re not exactly sure what this means.” And she asked Rep Rangel: “Well Charlie, What happens now?”

Charlie’s reply: “It’s got to be a little easier now. He’s (Rep. Rick Lazio) about ten months late and ten million short!”

Former NY Mayor Dave Dinkins observed there’s “a different slant” now that Mayor Rudy Giuliani has dropped out. Attention is “more on issues than personalities now.” . . .Former NY Rep. Steve Solarz said, “It’s a mixed blessing for Mrs. Clinton.”

And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) found time to drop by “Dubya’s” fundraiser across town before heading over to The White House sparking rumors that he could be Gov. Bush’s running mate.

But enough politics – here’s what the celebs had to say:

Uber-New Yorker Spike Lee brought a CD, “Super Tramp” (‘it was big in the 70’s,’ he explained) for Lenny Kravitz, who attended with his 11-year-old daughter, Zoey. Kravitz said: “Spike’s giving me a little education on a song.” Kravitz said President Clinton called and asked him to do the gig Wednesday night (the big Democratic fundraiser in DC), so he came in a few days early. “We wanted you to just be a guest,” Hillary told him. He shared thoughts about his visit to underground clubs in Johannesburg, “It was just like New York City. The attitude of the people is very open, almost like the 60’s. They’re looking for new ideas.”

Al Roker, part of “Today’s First Family,” said being at the dinner made him feel “like a little bit of history.” . . . On turning 50, Stevie Wonder exclaimed: “I’m probably the youngest 50 you’ll ever meet.” Right on Stevie! . . . Meshach Taylor of “Designing Woman” boasted of his role in “introducing Bill to Hollywood.” “I’ll do anything I can to help him.”

Spike Lee, Lenny Kravitz and Harry Belafonte sat at the First Lady’s table. “How do you beat Harry Belafonte?” Kravitz asked, obviously pleased with his dinner conversation. “I loved the diversity-a little bit of politics, a little literary-the woman next to me, Jane Mayer, wrote the book on Anita Hill (“Strange Justice; The Selling of Clarence Thomas”). She told Belafonte to write a book on his civil rights involvement in the 60’s. He thought for a moment, and said, ‘that would be icing on the cake.'”

Everyone at the White House misses veteran reporter Helen Thomas who resigned the other day after the Unification Church bought UPI. If she feels she’s not ready to give it all up, Bloomberg News has made her an offer that would keep her on the Presidential beat. Is it one she can’t refuse?

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief, joked over dinner with President Clinton about photos. “We’ve been photographed in 100 different ways.” The President thought for a moment, “Yea, I guess we can call it ‘Kama Sutra Light.'”

Back to Articles