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Harlem celebrates official opening of Clinton’s new office

SHARE Harlem celebrates official opening of Clinton’s new office

NEW YORK — A thousand people, including a few protesters, turned out to greet Bill Clinton on Monday as the former president prepared to officially open his new office in Harlem.

"I've never seen Bill before, and I just had to be here," said Marie Douglas, a Harlem retiree who hails from Clinton's hometown of Hope, Ark. "I think he's a wonderful guy, regardless of all the sex scandals. I think he's going to be wonderful for Harlem."

A campaign-style scene unfolded outside the Harlem state office building on 125th Street, just down the street from Clinton's new post-White House office, where the welcoming ceremony was held. Red, white and blue balloons decorated the plaza. Supporters held paper fans bearing a picture of Clinton's face. Many wore badges saying: "Harlem Welcomes President Clinton."

Some held signs protesting the outcome of the last presidential election. "We were robbed. Remember the Florida count!" read one sign. "George Bush was selected, not elected!" read another.

The party featured live bands and appearances by more than 60 community leaders, in addition to Clinton himself.

Supporters of the former president's move to Harlem say it helps the neighborhood's renaissance, but Monday's crowd included several dozen protesters who called the Clinton office a symbol of gentrification.

"Bill Clinton is no friend of Harlem," said one protester, Malik Zulu Shabazz, chairman of the New Black Panther Party. "Poor black men and poor black women will not have a home in Harlem any more because rents will be going up. ... We are losing our urban inner-city that is ours."

Nellie Bailey, a member of the Harlem Tenants Council, cited issues like welfare reform, increased prison populations and high asthma and infant mortality rates.

"If he wants to keep good on his stated pledge to help the community, he has to begin to speak out against these policies that have had a negative impact," she said.

The former president's staff moved into the 14th floor penthouse office at 55 W. 125th Street last week, but renovation of Clinton's private office won't be complete until September. The space offers stunning views of Central Park, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and even the Empire State Building, four miles away.

The crowd included 60 children attending day camp at the local YMCA, which recently gave Clinton an honorary membership. Kaelyn Cresfield, 6, was a little confused about the honoree: "I think he's vice president. I'm here for the party."