CLINTON'S REAL WOMEN A tough new breed stalks the corridors of old-boy power

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The nation's capital is making way for a tough new breed of working woman -- Bill Clinton's real women.

Strong and assertive, Mr. Clinton's women are independent, direct and determined to do things differently.

They have their own tastes and their own style; ever ready to take the hit, they're never shy about wielding power.

And while the president frets over his hair, flirts with the Hollywood crowd and has trouble taking the blame for his blunders, Clinton women are commandeering some of the sacred emblems of macho dominance.

Take the little black book, for example. Janet Reno, Mr. Clinton's single, 6-foot-3 1/4 -inch attorney general, has one. It's a log for making sure that when staff members promise to get something done, they don't forget to produce.

Clinton women aren't comfortable leaning on men. At her first White House state dinner, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala balked when a White House military escort offered her his arm.

Eyeing the proffered elbow, Ms. Shalala looked away and marched on. Rushing to keep up, the young escort made two more tries before the Cabinet officer finally relented.

Clinton women immediately flush out the stuffier guests at a party, often provoking some awkward reactions.

At a luncheon in her honor, White House Social Secretary Ann Stock shared a bowl of French chocolate mousse with a pal, Hallmark lobbyist Rae Evans.

Looking up from the plate, she tweaked Letitia Baldrige, Ms. Stock's predecessor in the Kennedy White House, by saying, "I'm sure you think this is terrible."

Ms. Baldrige, who writes books about etiquette, responded less-than-decorously: "It's fine, so long as neither one of you has AIDS."

So much for capital manners.

"People are very upfront. There's no intrigue or triangling," says Christine Varney, 37, deputy assistant to the president for Cabinet affairs. "We don't dress the same, look the same or eat at the same restaurants. But we are all committed to a political agenda, and that's why we're here."

Ms. Varney, a lawyer with two boys, ages 6 and 3, often works from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., skips dinner, comes in on weekends and describes her job as "putting out fires."

Based in a White House office that is "smaller than some of my closets at home," she favors designer clothes from the likes of Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel and Valentino.

For weekends working in the White House, she wears a big brown-and-black cashmere Valentino sweater, black leggings and cowboy boots.

"President Clinton has told me on more than one occasion that he likes my boots," Ms. Varney says.

Direct and directed

Mr. Clinton's real women are turning up in all the most powerful places -- as advisers on national security, economics and political strategies; heading up the IRS; at the Federal Reserve; and in law enforcement, education and health care.

Clinton women are direct and directed. They aren't shy, mysterious, subtle or elusive. They wear bright colors, but not on their nails. They work long hours, and have no trouble handling controversy.

They don't interrupt. They don't have to. The longer they wait to speak, the more chances they'll get to correct everyone else in the room.

And then consider pal Susan Thomases, a New York lawyer and friend of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. White House guards had Ms. Thomases' picture posted inside the Northwest Gate with a notation to give her easy access to the second floor of the West Wing where Mrs. Clinton's office is located.

Describing Mr. Clinton's choice for attorney general, Miami Herald reporter Don Van Atta explains: "Janet Reno is a reporter's nightmare. She answers questions in one or two syllables, won't be drawn out and doesn't suffer fools gladly.

"She's not simple. She's smart and intelligent. She dresses just the way she is -- no flourishes."

Light-years removed

This gang is light-years removed from [former Reagan and Bush Cabinet member] Elizabeth Dole with her soft, curly hair, sugary voice, perfect makeup and Harvard law degree, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, with all her Junior League training, who nonetheless gets flustered when Justice Antonin Scalia gets testy.

Mr. Clinton's real women don't fluster. They also don't preen, coo or, for that matter, even nibble quiche.

"No one is going anywhere for lunch," says Mandy Grunwald, a political strategist in the Clinton campaign who has opened her own consulting firm. "Everyone is really focused on work. They eat at their desks or in the White House mess.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people wandering around Georgetown who can't understand how to entertain this administration, how to get people to leave the White House in time for a dinner party."

Clinton women don't get hung up with feminist name games.

"We get plenty of calls from women objecting to the first lady calling herself Mrs. Clinton," says Neel Lattimore, Mr. Clinton's assistant press secretary. "They want us to call her Ms."

Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, who has been married three times, also wants to be called Mrs. "Anyone married as many times as I have been is Mrs.," she explains.

Power couples are big in the Clinton inner circle.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's wife, Hattie, is Mr. Clinton's ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Brooke Shearer, director of the White House Fellows program, andStrobe Talbott, a State Department ambassador-at-large, are a couple.

Doris Matsui, White House deputy director of public liaison, is married to Rep. Robert Matsui, Democrat from California.

But the group also includes a '60s-style, carpenter-and-the-lady romance. Lawyer Susan Thomases met her husband, carpenter Bill Bettridge, with whom she has a young son, Tommy, when he was renovating the apartment belonging to one of her law partners.

Fending for themselves

Clinton women are used to fending for themselves. With the White House cuts, they get plenty of opportunities.

Madeline Kunin, a former two-term governor of Vermont who is Mr. Clinton's deputy secretary of education, admits she sometimes missesthe perks of government service in Vermont.

After the president's State of the Union message, Ms. Kunin was spotted riding the Metro at 11:30 p.m. from Capitol Hill to Bethesda, where she's currently living with friends.

"As part of the austerity measures, portal-to-portal car service for deputy secretaries was just cut," she says. And her explanation for the new breed of Clinton women is simple: "Hillary Clinton leads the way."

Many of Bill Clinton's Real Women knew Hillary first.

Carol Rasco, the White House domestic policy chief, and Hillary served as volunteers at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Ms. Rasco then spent a decade as an aide to Mr. Clinton. Donna Shalala succeeded Hillary as chairwoman of the Children's Defense Fund Board.

Hillary Clinton also has her own, tightly knit band of staff women, including trip director Kelly Craighead, who lives in Adams Morgan with Tipper Gore's scheduler and Donna Shalala's director of advance.

Ms. Craighead remembers the time during the campaign when Hillary's traveling corps faced a rally of 100,000 fans in Chicago.

"I got a call from Little Rock that Capricia Marshall [now special assistant to the first lady], was phoning in on her mobile phone to say she was trapped out in the crowd with a claustrophobic aide."

Ms. Craighead sent the Secret Service to the rescue.

Staying in shape

Clinton women are keen on health clubs.

Lisa Caputo, Hillary Clinton's press secretary, waits till after 8 p.m. to head off to the Capitol Hill Squash Club.

Dee Dee Myers, 31, the first woman to serve as the president's press secretary, says, "When I have more time, I enjoy doing weights a lot, and also Stair-Master and Life Cycles."

But staying in shape isn't just for cosmetic reasons. Ms. Marshall remembers Hillary's traveling corps leaving an event at the Navajo Nation, and Ms. Caputo hadn't made it into the van.

"No matter what we said, the man who was driving wouldn't stop to get her," she recalls. "We opened the door, and Lisa had to run to catch up. We all caught her by the arms and legs and pulled her aboard."

All over town, 20-year-old Clinton aides -- through the halls of government, trying to balance power with a functioning personal life.

Patti Solis, Hillary Clinton's director of scheduling, remembers arriving in Washington. "All I wanted to do was get out of my apartment, hail a taxicab and say, 'Take me to the White House.' It was so exciting."

Nowadays she's expanded her ambitions. "All I do is work. Does anyone know someone I can date?" she asks.

"A lot of our friends are living in hotels and cold, impersonal basement apartments, and work long hours," adds Ms. Shearer, who's been inviting friends over for "small, very informal suppers around the kitchen table for members of the administration, many of whom are here without spouses and children because we started in the middle of the school year."

She serves chili or takeout from a good nearby restaurant.

"When it comes to eating out, we have everyone back to the house to park in the driveway, and then we all walk to the Lebanese Tavern, Mrs. Simpson's or New Heights," she says.

Clinton women like all kinds of clothes, from fur coats to Chanel suits to pieces from the Spiegel catalog.

U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who favors red and wears golden combs in lieu of a hair band, says she "shops anywhere I can find clothes that are the right size."

Ms. Albright is the one Bill Clinton turns to when he decides at the last minute that he can't make it to a formal dinner.

Second-hand mink

Ms. Shearer wears a full-length mink coat she picked up secondhand in New York.

Probably the most fashion-oriented woman in the group is White House Social Secretary Ann Stock, a former Bloomingdale's executive, who says she is just waiting for the right moment to invite a rock band to play the White House.

Ms. Stock, who often wears a black Chanel suit with a gold zippered vent up the back, says, "I'm not doing any shopping, and I probably won't be for a long time, not with the White House pay freeze. I'm saving my money to visit New York."

Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers has made short work of the notion that pants are inappropriate for the White House.

"I have two pantsuits," says Ms. Myers, who this day is in bright blue suede pumps and a blue, red and green tweed skirt and jacket that she ordered from the Spiegel catalog. She says she wears jeans to the White House only on weekends.

"Mandy Grunwald always wears jeans," Ms. Myers continues. "She looks great from the waist up when she's on television with her blazer and her pearls, but from the waist down, all bets are off."

L "I do wear pearls," Ms. Grunwald admits. "Big plastic ones."

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