New York Times
February 23, 2000


Mrs. Clinton Suggests a State Debating Tour


By ADAM NAGOURNEY

TONAWANDA, N.Y., -- Describing the rambunctious presidential debate on racial issues at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Monday as a valuable exercise for voters, Hillary Rodham Clinton said today she would like to debate Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on the same topics and in the same setting, and suggested that the two embark on a debating tour across New York.

"Wouldn't that be fun?" the first lady said to reporters during an afternoon visit to this community outside Buffalo. "It would be fun to do. Stand up in all sorts of settings all over the state."

Mrs. Clinton made her suggestion -- it was something short of the sort of debate challenge that typically comes later in a campaign -- after a brief address to elderly New Yorkers eating lunch at a Salvation Army center. By all indications, it was not part of some larger campaign strategy. The idea seemed to evolve as she spoke approvingly of the Democratic presidential debate involving Al Gore, the vice president, and Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, at the Apollo, and then answered questions about her own campaign for Senate.

"I'm happy that the two Democratic contenders for the presidency would hold a debate about urban issues at the Apollo Theater in Harlem," Mrs. Clinton said.

"The bottom line for me is we're talking about urban issues and we're talking about them in a setting that is so meaningful and important, historically, to the African-American community."

When asked if she would like to do the same thing, she said, "I would love to have a debate in the Apollo Theater." Mrs. Clinton said, "It would be good to have ongoing debates and discussions about issues."

In New York City, Bruce J. Teitelbaum, the manager of Mr. Giuliani's Senate campaign, said the mayor welcomed debating Mrs. Clinton, but would not commit to any specific time or venue. "The mayor looks forward to numerous opportunities, including debates, to compare his record of success as mayor of New York, U.S. attorney, third-ranking official in the Justice Department, and lifelong New Yorker, with Mrs. Clinton," Mr. Teitelbaum said.

Mrs. Clinton's remarks came as she returned to upstate New York, discussing, as she did last week, ways to bring down the cost of heating oil, a matter of concern to voters here during a particularly cold winter. Mr. Giuliani has criticized President Clinton for not releasing oil from the Strategic Reserve Fund, oil that is set aside in the event of a worldwide shortage, as a way of bringing down escalating fuel costs.

Mrs. Clinton called for, among other things, increasing federal assistance to help low-income New Yorkers pay their oil bills, and requiring oil companies to keep a fuel reserve on hand for times when demand outstrips supply.

"Ever since Bill and I bought our house in Chappaqua, it has been heated by heating oil so we know how much it has gone up in a short amount of time," Mrs. Clinton said. Her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, was unable to provide details of the heating costs actually encountered by Mrs. Clinton, who, in fact, has divided her nights between her new home and the White House.

In a typical race for United States Senate -- which this is not -- debates between general election candidates do not begin until after Labor Day. Mrs. Clinton did not say when she would like to start debating Mr. Giuliani, but made clear it was sooner rather than later.

"I would engage in debates with my opponent on the other side whenever we could," she said. "I don't have any starting time or ending time. I really believe the more information you give to people and the more you answer questions, the more you can make the campaign about issues, and the better it will be for everybody."

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