A chatty Clinton finally has time for well-wishers

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- As the sun took the chill off the brisk autumn morning, President-elect Bill Clinton strolled back from a morning jog near the Governor's Mansion yesterday, greeting every passer-by he could get his hands on and talking about the new life that awaits him.

The momentum -- and the voice -- seemed to be back.


After shouting at aides Saturday for having allowed photographers to get near him when he was playing golf, a decidedly more chipper and chatty Bill Clinton emerged yesterday morning.

After a three-mile jog around the neighborhood, during which he tried to outsmart photographers by altering his usual route, he stopped at a nearby McDonald's to buy a cup of decaf and shake some hands and then took a leisurely stroll back.


On his second day of R&R;, in fact, the president-elect spent so long chatting with well-wishers and reporters that, upon returning to the stately brick mansion, he leaped over the fence so he could get ready for church.

"I'm rested now," he told several reporters who walked beside him on his way back to the mansion. "The first two or three nights were really tough."

In the last few days, he said, he and his wife, Hillary, "just sort of jTC sat around and talked to each other and tried to get collected."

In no hurry to announce Cabinet and other top-level appointments, he said he planned to "work hard, but not rush decisions. . . . It takes a while to sort of come down and build up. I want to make decisions in a fast way, but I want them to be good decisions."

Vernon Jordan, the newly appointed chairman of Mr. Clinton's transition team, said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" yesterday that it was "a reasonable goal" to have top appointments in place by Thanksgiving and "certainly by Dec. 1."

Both Mr. Jordan and the transition director, Warren Christopher, said on TV talk shows that the president-elect would, within weeks, call business leaders and economists to Little Rock to advise him on a plan to stimulate the economy.

The discussions would focus on Mr. Clinton's plan to create a high-level economic policy council that would be similar to the National Security Council, the advisers said.

For Mr. Clinton's part, he was talking about his daughter's ballets and his own golf games yesterday, refusing in his wide-ranging walking conversation with reporters to discuss specific transition plans or any policy decisions President Bush is dealing with.


"I'm not going to have any official comment for a while," he said.

Wearing a long-sleeved black T-shirt from one of Little Rock's top hangouts, Doe's Eat Place, the president-elect wallowed in the role of local boy who made good, leaning into cars to shake hands, waxing nostalgic about an old cemetery that is one of his favorite spots in the state and stopping on a corner to talk with friends coming from church.

When one acquaintance remarked that he was surprised to see Mr. Clinton with a cigar in his mouth in news footage Saturday, the president-elect was quick to point out that someone had given it to him as a victory gift. As is his way, he added, "I didn't smoke it."

"You didn't inhale," the friend wisecracked, using the governor's infamous line about his marijuana use in college.

"I didn't inhale," Mr. Clinton said with a grin. "I never smoke those things. I'm allergic to them. Besides that, it sets a bad example."

He also stopped along his way to greet tourists, like a couple from Peoria, Ill., who had gone to Memphis, Tenn., "to see Elvis" and stopped in Little Rock to see the next best thing, and a supporter from Maryland.


Mr. Clinton thanked the Marylander for his support, saying the state had come through for him "big time" even though Gov. William Donald Schaefer had endorsed Mr. Bush.

The president-elect told reporters that he and Hillary are still so tired from the campaign that he now faces a "real dilemma" of whether to take time off.

Lately, he said, he has been catching up on reading "transition stuff," because just after the election he couldn't read anything more taxing than Jonathan Kellerman's novel "Private Eyes." "Oooooh, it's good," he remarked with an Elvis-like squeal.

He said his election to the presidency had finally sunk in -- he and his friend Webb Hubbell broke out laughing in the middle of their golf game Saturday as they marveled at the realization. But he said he wasn't sure what he should now be called. "Governor's good, I think," he said

And he recalled his first thoughts upon waking up Wednesday morning as president-elect:

"I didn't get to bed until about 4 in the morning, and I woke up about 9. And I woke up realizing that all these people had come here from all over America to celebrate the victory . . . and I didn't know they were here until they were gone. . . . I wish, somehow, there had been more of me to go around."


He said, for instance, that Baltimore novelist Taylor Branch, a longtime friend, had come and gone "and I never saw him. I'm just sick about it. I'll call him this week sometime."

Mr. Clinton said that leaving his state was going to be tough for him. "These people are my friends," he said of those he greeted and waved to yesterday. He added that he was concerned about the adjustment for his 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea.

"Chelsea's got a wonderful life here," he said. "We've got to figure out how to make sure this is a good thing for her. She's going to stay here all through the Christmas holidays. She's going to dance in 'The Nutcracker,' and she's going to finish her term here and we'll figure out what to do."