Thursday, March 23, 2000

Chesley accustomed to big-name house guests




BY JIM KNIPPENBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Stanley Chesley's version of Vice President Al Gore's luncheon visit to his Amberley Village home today:

        “I had so much to do: Got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the floors. Got the cobwebs left over from the last presidential visit. Bought food and stayed up all night cooking. Threw out the wilted flowers and picked fresh ones. Stashed the paper plates and pulled out the good china. Parked the guests' cars and served lunch.”

        The truth: Staff cleaned the house. The Phoenix prepared the food. His florist delivered new flowers. He doesn't own any paper plates. And he hired a small army of servers and valet parkers.

        “But it sounds better, don't

        you think? Me doing it all. Are you buying it?”

        Uh, no.

        So here's Mr. Chesley, two days before the candidate's visit, sitting in his 15th-floor office downtown, surrounded by an array of antique tables and chests sitting on tightly woven Oriental rugs.

        His desk is, well, cluttered — diet Coke cans, scraps of paper, a half-empty teacup, legal pads covered with what passes for handwriting, a lineup of pens in ornate bronze stands, the kind that look like old-fashioned inkwells.

        Nothing too neat here. If you want neat, check the tops of the chests and credenzas, where he has meticulously arranged dozens of photos of himself with Bill and Hillary Clinton, alternating with pictures of his two kids, six grandchildren and wife Susan.

        A barrage of phone calls is rolling in, this from the caterer, that from the florist, one from a staffer who wants to know how to re-arrange the dining room, another from someone who thought they couldn't come today but things changed and can you squeeze us in?

        Through it all, he's doing a nifty balancing act: Talking on the phone, swigging tea and hitching up his semi-baggy gray britches — “I lost 15 pounds. Jenny Craig,” he says with a hand clamped over the receiver.

        So it's all pretty stressful, eh? This business of having the VP in for a munch while maintaining a job, watching the diet, fielding calls and whipping the house into shape?

        “Not anymore. To tell you the truth, we have it down to a science by now. I know what needs to be done when, and I know what to expect in the last couple of days.

        “You'd think people would be preparing months out in front. But these schedules are so tight with so much happening every day that things always come together late.”

        He knows what he's talking about. He has hosted Mr. Clinton three times at his house and once at a downtown hotel; Hillary Clinton three times; Tipper Gore three times; and Al Gore twice, but never at his home.

        “You know what people don't know about the Clintons and the Gores, and why I don't find this stressful? They are the nicest people to know. Very informal and they bring a really small entourage. They love to mix and mingle and talk to people.”

        Which is why he's on the phone supervising the redesign of his dining and living rooms: Out with the lovingly gathered antiques — early English mostly — in with a batch of smaller, more intimate dinner tables.

        No tents in the back yard as he did for President Clinton last year? “Yuck, March in Cincinnati? I did that once, had heated tents, and wouldn't you know the heater conked? March weather is dangerous.

        “But I'm expecting 30 to 40 people and I want to raise a lot of money. To do that, I have to make the party more intimate. That's the way the vice president likes it, too.”

        Right. So how much are guests paying for a chance to get all warm and fuzzy at a four-top with the VP? We keep hearing it's in the neighborhood of $10,000.

        “You know I never discuss that. My goal is to raise money, to equalize the books with the Republican Party.”

        Fine. So what are we serving for this $10K chow? Any chance guests will catch the VP with, say, Skyline dribbled on his tie?

        “I won't discuss the menu, but it's food he likes — a light salad and a meat course. One of the secrets of these things is you have to plan a meal with ease of serving in mind. You can't have 12 waiters dashing around the room balancing plates full of heavy sauces.”

        Not that Mr. Gore would mind: “He's so easy going, he doesn't even care when I pull out my Brownie and start taking pictures.”

        Of the candidate? Shots soon to take their place on the Credenza of Fame?

        “I don't consider this a visit by a candidate. I consider it a presidential visit that just happens to fall before the election. We're on in November.”

        All right, then. What about Dickens and Crumpet? Are they invited? Heaven knows, his two Cavalier King Charles spaniels have their share of exposure on his photo-intensive credenza.

        “Oh sure, they come to all the parties. I couldn't leave them out.”

        One person he does leave out is his wife, federal Judge Susan Dlott. It's an ethics thing: Federal judges are expected to remain above the grime of politics.

        “She has to work anyway,” Mr. Chesley says, fiddling with a small box wrapped in stiff gold paper.

        And this is ... what?

        “A birthday gift from the president. Sunday's my birthday (64),” he says, passing it over the teacups and Coke cans. The unopened box is heavy, about the size of a small book, and accompanied by a note from Mr. Clinton.

        Whatever's in there will have to wait. Right now, he's trying to answer a question about what he expects to gain from all this fund raising. A job maybe? Say, ambassador to someplace warm with miles of white, sandy beaches?

        “Nope. I can't think of one thing I'd like to do that I'm not already doing.

        “People always ask why I do these things, and I always tell them the same thing: I like being part of the political system. We're a country that's built on a system that works, where you can participate or not. I choose to participate and do it from the inside. There aren't many countries in the world where you can do that.

        “And there aren't many places where it's actually easier to host a president or vice president than a room full of civilian guests. They aren't the least bit finicky and are incredibly appreciative of everything.”

        How easy to host?

        “I'm working a few hours in the morning, going home for the lunch, going back to work in the afternoon.

        “And I'm wearing blue jeans and bedroom slippers. And I have to remember to wind the hall clock.”

        Oh.

       



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