The first thing President Bill Clinton did when he got out of the limo for the fundraising tournament at the Bayonne Golf Club on Oct. 29 was light up a large cigar.
This was his second visit to Bayonne in a little over a month, although he previously came on Sept. 11 to mark the unveiling of a monument by his friend Zurab Tsereteli, the world renowned Russian artist, who had also painted a portrait of Clinton’s mother.
The Oct. 29 visit was a much less sober event, and Clinton grinned as a small crowd of well-wishers awaited in the cold air.
The golf club raised a huge American flag at the top highest point on the course, as a tribute to the 46th president’s visit, but the wind ripped at the fabric threatened to blow the flag out to sea.
If Clinton minded the cold, he didn’t show it, although he quickly donned a knit hat the club gave him, and his own down vest and other gear that would allow him to bear the crisp temperatures once he was out on the course.
This visit was part of a week-long belayed birthday bash celebrating his 60th birthday. He delayed the event from August in order not to interfere with political fundraising for Democrats – including his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is in the middle of reelection campaign as a U.S. Senator to New York.
Proceeds from the various events will go to the William J. Clinton Foundation, which oversees the Clinton HIV-AIDS initiative, the Clinton Global Initiative and other programs he set up since leaving office in 2000.
Clinton – never shy when it comes to handshaking or greeting ordinary people, eased away from the dignitaries who waited patiently for him to meet them, to pose for a picture with the golf course workers, golf caddies and grounds keepers, many whom come from Bayonne and nearby Jersey City.
But the event, of course, was part of a fundraising effort that included numerous other prestigious events included an invitation only concert by the Rolling Stones at the Beacon Theater (filmed by legendary director Martin Scorsese) earlier and dinner at the American Museum of Natural History.
Clinton made the trip from Manhattan via ferry, and was greeted at the Bayonne Golf Course, ferry dock, by state Senator and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria.
Doria and Clinton have a long history together, dating back before Clinton’s first successful run for President of the United States in 1992.
Council President Vincent Lo Re and Police Director – soon to be Deputy Chief – Mark Smith – were also in the Bayonne contingent, waiting for Clinton at the club house.
“I’ve meet President Clinton a number of times,” Lo Re said.
Security was tight especially after someone left a white powder substance in his New York City offices earlier in the week, forcing his staff to be tested for possible exposure as a precaution. In 2001, several people died as the result of anonymous mailing of anthrax.
But the heavy security did not stop Clinton from shaking hands, even hugging people, as he made his way through the crowd prior to his taking to the course. He was scheduled to spend a good portion of the day teeing off with donors.
In some ways, the golf course, one of the most challenging of its kind in the world, is a tribute to his legacy as president – since the golf course, or for that matter, many of the formerly contaminated sites in Hudson County, might never have seen redevelopment had Clinton not led the movement in the mid-1990s for the cleanup of contaminated former industrial sites.
His initiative cleared the way for local redevelopment, leveraging more than $1.6 billion in private sector investment for brownsfield redevelopment, and allowed businesses to fully deduct certain brownsfield cleanup costs.
Several local officials claim the redevelopment of the former Military Ocean Terminal may not have been possible if not for Clinton’s lead, allowing U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, while a member of the House of Representatives to steer federal money into rebuilding the former base.
While the golf course was redevelopment from what was formerly the city dump using extensive private capital, many other sites throughout Bayonne benefited from Clinton’s brownfields law – including many of the areas of Bayonne that were polluted by oil companies in the past.
“This is the caliber of people who come to this golf course,” said Ron D’Argenio, attorney for the Bayonne Golf Club. “People like Bill Clinton want to come to Bayonne.”
Despite his smoldering cigar, Clinton will likely be seen by future historians as the environmental president, whose efforts has allowed much of the Hudson County waterfront to blossom.
His Smart Growth plan became the model for New Jersey’s plan to reign in suburban sprawl under Governor Jim McGreevey.
When asked if Clinton minded the cold wind that blew across the golf course, Clinton laughed.
“Let’s play some golf,” he said.
Then, climbing behind the wheel of a golf cart steered it towards the challenging hills of the Scottish links course where he was to spend most of the day raising money for charity with each swing.