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Special Event

Bill Clinton Wants Office in Harlem

Aired February 13, 2001 - 12:01 p.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we take you live right away to Harlem. There you can see former President Bill Clinton shaking hands. A lot of people have been waiting outside of this office building to see the former president.

He arrived there earlier today to check out what we believe will be his new offices, the president going ahead and picking these offices instead of ones that he had previously selected in midtown Manhattan, when he received a lot of heat that those were too expensive, costing up to $700,000 a year. These offices would cost a lot less, about half.

Let's go ahead and listen -- actually, is he going to speak. It looks like he is reviewing before the former president wants to speak. Let's go ahead and listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you!

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Please -- let me say a word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the man, you're the man!

CLINTON: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touch my hand! Touch my hand!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touch my hand!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him talk, let him talk.

CLINTON: First of all -- someone lost a mike, didn't they?

I want to thank the owners of this building, Arthur Stern, Steve Williams and Ross Jacobs (ph), for making me feel so welcome here today. I'd like to thank Terry Lane with the Economic Empowerment Zone here in Harlem and all the people who work with the Empowerment Zone. I want to thank Jim Capel (ph), the chief of staff to Representative Charlie Rangel, who made the tour with me today. And I'd like to thank all the folks from the Government Services Administration, who are responsible for finding offices for the former president.

I have decided to locate my office in this building if we can work it out. We're looking at it... (APPLAUSE)

And I would like to say how this came about. I went to Florida last week to make a couple of talks and to have a few meetings, and I had noticed, as you might have, some of the controversy surrounding, in Washington, around the location of the site that we looked at in midtown, which had been approved by the GSA.

And it was not something I paid a great deal of attention to while I was the president. I spent most of my time thinking about my job. So I asked myself down in Florida if I could go anyplace in New York to have a office starting today, where would I go. And immediately I thought of the empowerment zone in Harlem.

Because one of the major initiatives of our economic renewal package in 1993 was the empowerment zone. This is one of the first empowerment zones we created. Hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment has come to Harlem as a result of it and the hard work here. Charlie Rangel helped me to pass it in '93.

So I called Hillary and asked my senator first how she would feel about me coming to Harlem. And she loved it.

So then I called Charlie Rangel and my friend Vernon Jordan and I asked them what they thought about it. Charlie said it would be great, and I said, "Well, Congressman, I want to do it but got to find a place before we tell anybody." So within 24 hours we had found this building, these fine men, and I'm very excited about it.

I would like to say a word of appreciation also to the people who run the building and own the building at Carnegie Towers. They have been very nice about this, very understanding, and I understand they've got plenty of tenants and maybe at a better rate. So I want to thank Henry Aguy (ph) and all those folks that were so good to me.

Let me just close with a story here. When I was 22 years old, I won a scholarship to go to school in England, and I used to fly back to the States on a student round-trip ticket for 120 bucks from London to La Guardia. I had friends in New York then so I'd always stop here for a day or two. And every single time I did a took the public transportation to 125th Street on the West Side -- I mean the East Side -- and I would walk down 125th, all the way west, in Harlem. This is back in the '60s now, people would come up to me and ask me what I was doing here, and I said, "I don't know, I just liked it, I felt at home."

And so I feel in a lot of ways, because of the empowerment zone, because of what the people are doing here, because they've made me feel so welcome here today, and because this is what my presidency was about and it's a lot of what I want to do in my post-presidential years, bringing economic opportunity to people in places who don't have it here at home and around the world and bringing people of different races and religions and backgrounds together.

This is what this means to me. I feel wonderful about it and I'm very, very grateful. I hope we can work the lease out and all the details, I feel confident we can, and I'm looking forward to it. Thank you very much.

KAGAN: And there you have comments from former President Bill Clinton, standing and greeting the crowd outside what he says probably will be his next office, these offices at 55 west 125th Street. The -- the former president coming up with the idea to have offices in Harlem. He was telling the story on a trip to Florida. This, of course, after the controversy over the very expensive offices he originally was going to select in midtown Manhattan.

Our Maria Hinojosa has been covering the story with us.

And Maria, I think -- can you hear us -- it's kind of loud there?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can hear you, Daryn, I can you hear you fine.

KAGAN: Tell us more about the idea that the -- the former president talking about the Federal Empowerment Zone. What is that, and what does it mean to this neighborhood, and just as importantly, what does it mean to the offices that the former president would like to occupy, if they can work it out?

HINOJOSA: Well, The Federal Empowerment Zone was a project that the former president worked along with the leaders here in Harlem -- to create economic development in this area. 125th Street has, for the longest, been the center of Harlem, the center of the African- American community, but it really was a neighborhood, a community, that was abandoned in terms of amenities. The Federal Empowerment Zone created to try to bring that development here into Harlem.

And as a result, over the past really four or five years, the kind of economic development that you see here in Harlem has been incredibly visible. You didn't even used to have a bank that was open 24 hours on 125th street. You now have that, a Magic Johnson cineplex. You have several amenities that are typical for any community that now exists here.

And the former president is saying he wants to be a part of that continuing development here in Harlem, that he wants to be a part of that continuing relationship between people of color within Harlem. You have a mixture of African-Americans, Latinos, and many non- minority people, who are moving into this community. So in a sense, as the former president said. this is what he'd like to use his time to do in terms of building his legacy, that it remains something that he's committed to by being here in Harlem.

Very interesting story: many of the people applauding him, there were some hecklers at the beginning which I think he wasn't exactly prepared for -- but most of the people overwhelmingly supporting, and as he walked away, lots of hugs and high fives for the former president, who apparently, will be setting up offices here, as he said in his words, if they can work the details out -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Very good, Maria, we're going to have you stand by as we continue to watch these live pictures from Harlem.

We also have with us our financial reporter Fred Katayama.

Fred, let's talk money here, since that's what the controversy was over. The office space in midtown Manhattan was reported to be about $700,000 a year -- quite expensive. This is less than half, at $30 per square foot, as I understand you. What does each buy you in each location?

FRED KATAYAMA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Daryn, that, personally having lived on west 57th Street, only a few blocks away from where President Clinton was planning to hold his office, 57th Street is a very high-rent district. It's only -- his office would have been a few blocks away from 5th and 57th, which is the heart of the commercial district, anchored by stores such as Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman.

Now, by moving over to Harlem, of course, he will cut his rent by a sizable amount. As for the New York real estate market, a lot of realtors say that it has peaked, that prices have gone as high as they have come, and that it is no longer a landlord's market -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, Fred, you stand by.

Maria, what is exactly -- I don't know if you've had a chance to look at these offices or talk to people who know the building -- but what will $30 per square foot buy the former president in Harlem?

HINOJOSA: Well, he will be getting an entire floor on this building, which is also off of 5th Avenue, just on 125th street, off of 5th Avenue. But interestingly, the prices for real estate here in Harlem have seen a skyrocket just in the past couple of years. And that's because part of the Empowerment Zone was to make Harlem become a desirable neighborhood. And so in fact, when you talk to the people in Harlem, many of them say that they're being priced out, that you cannot, if you're a working-class African-American family -- cannot now even afford to buy a place or rent a place in Harlem.

And there were some concerns that by having the former president open his offices here, that that would only increase the rate for people who want to try and stay in Harlem. So it's complicated up here in Harlem, as well, in terms of the monies and the rents.

KAGAN: Kind of a mixed blessing there for the folks in Harlem.

Also, Maria as we were looking at the picture of the former president walking away, it looked like a mob scene. Is this neighborhood ready to have this on a daily basis, the former president always coming to work at this office building?

HINOJOSA: I think that over time, certainly people will get used to it. But the important thing, I think, for former President Bill Clinton is that, as he said, he feels at home here. This is a neighborhood he was walking through 125th Street in the '70s, when you didn't often see a lot of white faces walking on along 125th Street. Now you see that all the time. But I think that the fact that he will be coming in and out -- there are numerous places that I mentioned -- the McDonald's on the corner, the Starbucks right across the street..

KAGAN: A Krispy Kreme?

HINOJOSA: Krispy Kreme -- that's a couple of blocks down. You've got the Magic Johnson multiplex, you've got the Apollo theater, you've got Sylvia's Soul Food.

So really, many people feel -- who are not African-American, feel very much at home in this community, and the question will be whether or not the former president decides to walk in the front door every day that he comes through the office, or whether or not he'll come in through the back way, through the garage. Of course, we don't know that yet -- Daryn.

KAGAN: We'll have to wait and see on that.

One other New York issue there, Maria -- I know that it's important to people: the commute. Aren't these Harlem offices -- this would be closer to the home in Chappaqua than if he had been in midtown?

HINOJOSA: As a matter of fact, I can even look over my right shoulder here and see the Metro north stop. So it would be about a two-block walk, if he decides to walk it. So it's actually quite simple: You hop off on 125th Street; up to Chappaqua, it's probably only about 40 minutes or so. It would be an easier commute. If he was going to take the offices on west 57th Street, he would have had to take the Metro north and then catch a subway to west 57th Street -- a little bit more complicated.

KAGAN: Somehow, I don't picture the former president taking the subway to work, or a train. Perhaps there will be some kind of car service involved in that.

HINOJOSA: Well, we shall see.

KAGAN: Yes, we shall see. It will be very interesting to see how he does work into this neighborhood.

Maria Hinojosa, bringing us live coverage there from Harlem, and also thanks to Fred Katayama, giving us some perspective on New York real estate.

Oh, actually, we're going to keep going.

Fred, he mentioned office owners, the people who owned the Carnegie Hall location. Is real estate in that neighborhood in such demand that they wouldn't have trouble turning it around?

KATAYAMA: Well, they shouldn't have much troubles. And as I said earlier, Daryn, the real estate market has peaked in New York, but there's still a lot of demand. Having said that, at the same time, a lot of dot-coms have gone out of business, and that is putting some downward pressure on the markets. But New York, over the past few years, as I'm sure you're aware, has really come back economywise under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It's attracted a lot of businesses back in Manhattan as well as a lot of individuals who are moving back out of the suburbs, back into the center of the city.

So there shouldn't be much problem in getting another tenant for that pricey location. It does have a beautiful view of Central Park and west 57th Street. It is a desirable part of New York City.

KAGAN: Maria, when we heard the former president begin to speak, he said that these will be his offices, on west 125th. They will be is offices if he can work out the term. Would you have any information on that, on negotiations that might have to take place, or any kind of snags that might happen as they try to figure that out?

(CROSSTALK)

KAGAN: Let's let Maria go.

HINOJOSA: I was just going to say that we really don't have any of the specifics about those negotiations, but given the fact that the former president was received so well in this community, it would be hard to imagine that the realtors who have this building would try to -- when I spoke to Congressman Charles Rangel yesterday, he said we made the president an offer he can't refuse. So we would have to see on those specific details what comes out.

But certainly the taxpayers would be paying about $500,000 less a year for this space than he would have if he was on west 57th.

And also, Fred, one last thing about the view: This is probably one of the tallest buildings in -- on 125th Street, apart from the state office building. That means that the president would actually have a pretty wonderful panoramic view of all of Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He would be able to see down to west 57th Street, where he was going to have his other offices. So its going to be a pretty wonderful view of Manhattan for the president, if he comes up here to Harlem.

KATAYAMA: Deb and Maria, he'll also get some good sun, being on the northern side.

KAGAN: See -- things that we who don't live in New York -- things we would never think of.

Thanks to both of you New Yorkers for pointing that out to us, Fred Katayama and Maria Hinojosa.

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