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Special Event

Hillary Rodham Clinton Discusses Save America's Treasures

Aired July 17, 2000 - 3:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are taking you to Ellis Island now, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is speaking in front of reporters.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), N.Y. SEN. CANDIDATE: ... dedication to what this island means, what the Statue of Liberty means, and one thing that I meant to say in my remarks which I didn't is that Diane started her career in the National Park Service at the Statute of Liberty as a 16-year-old, her father worked at the Statue of Liberty. So she's a second-generation Park Service employee who has been able to make her career protecting some of America's greatest treasures.

And I know you have some questions for me. I'd like to start, though, if there are any questions about the event or about Ellis Island -- yes?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: That's a good question. I am going to ask Diane to amplify on it. Part of the reason is that the other side where the deterioration is taking place was the subject of a court battle between New York and New Jersey as to who owned it? I mean, where the island and those buildings resided when it came to jurisdiction. And so there wasn't any clear line of responsibility and I think that, while the jurisdictional battle was going on, there was an unwillingness on the part of the federal government to make any long- term plans.

And I think in 1965 when President Johnson first proposed some of the changes that occurred, the decision was made to focus here first and then eventually to get there, but it wasn't freed up until 1998 when the final court decision -- and as you can see, when we were there speaking, there were a lot of people who weren't sure whether we were in New York or in New Jersey, and you know, Anita said one thing, Frank said one thing, and then I got handed a note which said something else. So I think it's clear that there was some questions about that.

But I will let Diane respond because I know you are interested in this. DIANE DAYSON, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: That's correct. The first lady clearly stated it very well. The biggest challenge was defining who belonged to the south side of Ellis Island. I think the momentum definitely picked up once the Supreme Court decision was made in 1998. Once that decision was made, the momentum for the south side picked up, not only did New Jersey come to the fore, but New York state as well. So lots of interest now in terms of the south side and lots of support as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: Well, let me respond in two ways to that. There might have been. I am not familiar with what could have been done either legally or financially while the jurisdiction was being contested. But Senator Graham said something really important and that is there is a very big backlog in the Park Service for the kind of repairs, construction, stabilization, maintenance and operation of a lot of our most important sites.

I mean, one of the reasons I started Save America's Treasures is because I traveled around the country and I would be in National Park Service sites or in other important historic places, and I was just really appalled at how much was not done because we didn't have the funds to do it.

So part of the idea behind Save America's Treasures was to get create this public-private partnership to get federal funds combined with private funds. So the federal government might have been able to do something more. But I think it's also fair to say that the federal government is, I think, at last count how many billions of dollars behind in repair and construction? And senator -- you know, Bob Graham is absolutely right that we've got a long way to go to keep faith with the institutions that are already under the control of the National Park Service.

So I'm not excusing anybody. I don't have any information one way or another. But I think that you have to put it in the broader context of how much money we really need to be good stewards of these sites.

And I guess the final thing I would say is that, you know, there are a lot of -- there's a lot of balancing that goes on in the federal park system to try to keep things going, but not -- you can't spend the money to get under the, you know, radar screen for the work that might be needed to make sure it's there in 50 years unless there's attention brought to it. And until recently, we just didn't have that kind of attention. And I've seen that, as I've done these 41 trips now, I've seen that all over the country.

Do you want to add anything?

DAYSON: Yes, I would agree wholeheartedly. I mean, the National Park Service has over 370-some-odd national parks across the country who are just in dire need of millions of dollars, as we are here at Ellis Island. And once again it becomes a kind of priority-setting kind of reality, and we need to determine what our priorities are. And I think we have finally here been in a position to do that, because of the support of both states. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. We'd still be talking about the south side of Ellis Island.

Four years ago, there was no interest in the south side of Ellis Island, and I and my staff fought hard to get some small recognition. And now all of a sudden here you all are here today to be a part of a very important and significant day relative to Save America's Treasures.

CLINTON: Any other questions on the event or Ellis Island or preservation or Park Service?

Thanks, Diane.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) he doesn't know who to believe, you or the three people who said that you made those comments, and he says it's a shame that New Yorkers won't know who to believe. How would you respond to that?

CLINTON: I'm not going to respond to that. I said yesterday that it was untrue, it did not happen. And I think it's regrettable that there is an accusation of that venality that is made. And I can only state unequivocally it did not happen.

And you know, I have tried very hard to run a campaign based on issues and to, you know, make sure that for a year to talk about the issues that will really affect people's' lives, that should affect the outcome of this election. I'm committed to running a campaign on issues, not insults. And you know, repeatedly, my opponent has, you know, mailed out letters filled with insults, has had his Republican chairman mail out letters filled with insults, stood by while the chairman of the Conservative Party hurled insults without saying anything.

And he can choose to run his campaign however he decides. But I'm going to keep focusing on the issues that will really determine whether or not we improve the economy and get good jobs to people, and provide good-quality schools for every child who deserves to have them, and deal with Social Security and Medicare and a patients' bill of rights, and you know, try to keep focused on what a senator will actually do in the Senate, and not permit myself, and I hope, other to be diverted or distracted from these important issues.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) does your husband speak for your campaign?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: I'm just going to keep working about the issues and talking to people, meeting with as many different people as I can, and you know, letting people have a chance to meet me and hear from me in person, and you know, try to make it a campaign about issues. And of I do that, I think I will, you know, be very successful throughout the state.

QUESTION: Can you give us more specifics about your campaign...

PHILLIPS: New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton addressing two things on Ellis Island. First, she was talking about grants that she started: Save America's Treasures. This is money to help create a partnership, both federal and private funds, to provide money for repair and upkeep of national parks.

She was also responding to questions from reporters in response to allegations she made anti-Semitic comments years ago. That accusation comes in a yet-to-be-published book authored by a former "National Enquirer" reporter. She stands by what she said earlier, and that is it did not happen, she did not make any type of anti- Semitic remarks, and she's going to continue to run a campaign on issues that affect people's lives, focusing on issues and not insults.

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