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Forgiveness On The Menu – QNS.com

Forgiveness On The Menu

There was hope in the air that spring of 1992 when Governor William Jefferson Clinton — the man from Hope, Arkansas—informally held a meeting with Queens Democratic and civic leaders in a diner along the Long Island Expwy. in Fresh Meadows.
The Future Diner it was called. Clinton, it was said, liked the name because it fit nicely with the theme of his uphill fight to win the New York Democratic Primary, a contentious battle that was shadowed by recent reports of draft dodging, pot smoking and an affair with a woman named Gennifer Flowers.
Some said the diner was selected for the important campaign stop because one of its owners was Clinton confidante George Stephanopoulous’ hairdresser. Whatever, for a campaign that used as its theme the rock anthem "Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" this seemed an appropriate setting. Especially because this first baby-boomer "bubba" loved diners, hamburgers and coffee.
I remember the group, which ranged from Claire Shulman to little children, loved the event because Clinton — mike in hand — roamed through the diner Oprah style. He was relaxed and smart. Most walked away with the real sense that this was a Queens-kind-of-guy.
That was a big victory for the Queens Democratic party chairman, Congressman Tom Manton. The reason: two months before nobody knew who would win this crucial N.Y. primary which could very well cement the Democratic nomination for President. With recession, economic woes, and general displeasure with Republican leadership, the nomination could very well decide who would be the next president.
There were a number of strong contenders that year and Clinton with his controversies was by no means a shoo-in. Manton realized that Queens — a major slice of Middle America in the greatest city on earth was a bellwether to the outcome of the election. So he invited the candidates to personally come to address the leaders of the Queens Democratic Organization and, in effect, beg and convince them for their support. Not all the candidates came. Bill Clinton did. He rode the F train from Manhattan to the Continental Blvd.-71 Ave. station in Forest Hills, walked up Austin St. and made his case to the Queens Dems in their ramshackle headquarters above a supermarket on that street.
The personal characteristics of Clinton’s public style — now familiar throughout the world — were in evidence that night. He impressed Manton. He impressed the leader, he got the all-important endorsement. He won Queens and New York in the primary, was nominated in a united convention at Madison Square Garden, was elected and inaugurated the leader of the free world, most powerful man on earth, President of the United States, etc.
Clinton had paid other visits to our borough during that campaign to Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Electchester in Flushing, to Rev. Floyd Flake’s church in St. Albans. But the real sign that he had never forgotten Queens’ role in his election came in September of 1993 when he selected the Future Diner as the site for his nationally televised forum on his Health Care Reform program. Before he conducted the session with people who were victims of abuse in the health system, he opened the forum by telling the audience how delighted he was to come back to this place in Queens. "We had such a good time here last year, I really wanted to come back," he said.
I bring these memories all up because of what I witnessed this past Friday — that dark day when Special Prosecutor Ken Starr’s report was publicly released. The lurid details were everywhere. The "man from Hope" seemed hopeless and helpless as he begged for forgiveness for the lies, the behavior, the hurt he had caused his cabinet, supporters, family and nation. I had received an invitation as a reporter to attend a long-scheduled sunset ceremony that night on the South Lawn of The White House where Clinton would be presented with the first "Paul O’Dwyer Award," named after legendary New York activist and politician who always fought for the down-trodden, the outcasts, the persecuted, from Ireland to this city, for blacks in the South and in South Africa, for Jews in Russia and around the world. O’Dwyer’s son was to present the award for Clinton’s achievement as architect of the amazing peace accords in strife-torn Ireland. I was not looking forward to the ceremony — it seemed surreal on a day when the x-rated report was dominating all of the capitol, the airwaves and the internet.
It was a love-fest so out of character with the day’s previous events.
The crowd wildly applauded Clinton and Hillary, who stood by his side. Senator Edward Kennedy hailed him as a great leader. Then Clinton got up to speak and my dread of this event disappeared. Among his first remarks was to recognize Congressman Tom Manton. "I remember when Tom took me to meet his Queens leaders," Clinton told the crowd, "and he later introduced me to Harold Ickes and Paul O’Dwyer who asked me to pledge if I was elected that I would grant [IRA head] Gerry Adams a visa." That pledge — which began in Queens — has led to one of the most significant peace treaties in this concluding century. People who would not even speak to one another now do. Countless lives in the future have been saved. The message of this peace in Northern Ireland resonates around the globe, from the Middle East to the Far East.
Riding back to New York on an Amtrak train, I began to read the bucket of filth that Ken Starr, a Puritanical, Prurient, Pornographer that is not a Prosecutor but a Persecutor, has dumped on this nation for our children and all of us to wallow in. Where on our networks was the Edward R. Murrow of our time to demand as he did of another wacko Joe McCarthy, "have you no shame, sir?"
Sure, Clinton was an idiot in his private life. He’s admitted it. Do we need hundreds of pages of garbage thrown at us to prove this? The American people, at least for now appear to be saying "no." Kennedy, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Jefferson, weren’t angels either but they enriched and satisfied our national history.
What then is the future for bill Clinton? That Queens diner is no longer named the Future Diner because of a change of ownership. An ominous sign?
The peace of the emerald isle will ultimately say more than the pornography of Ken Starr. There has been much quoting of the scriptures in this case as it should be. But, if you will forgive the allusion to the special persecutor’s name, perhaps both Ken Starr and Bill Clinton should also remember some words by Shakespeare that remind us all that our fate is "not our stars, but in ourselves. "
Editor’s Note: This column will regularly feature personal commentary on the past of Queens and how it relates to the borough’s future as we approach the 21st century).

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