'Happy Birthday, Mrs. President' Hillary Clinton Makes Political Mileage Out of Turning 60

Almost 4,000 guests turned out Thursday night to celebrate Hillary Clinton turning 60. Even the stars shelled out big bucks for the birthday bash at New York's historic Beacon Theatre -- and funneled over $1.5 million into her campaign coffers.

By in New York

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks during her 60th birthday party hosted by her husband Bill Clinton (l) and daughter Chelsea Clinton (c) at the Beacon Theater in New York on Thursday evening.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks during her 60th birthday party hosted by her husband Bill Clinton (l) and daughter Chelsea Clinton (c) at the Beacon Theater in New York on Thursday evening.

You don't ask a lady her age. At least that's how gentleman rocker Elvis Costello was brought up. "I thought it was impolite," he says, taking another sip from his coffee mug.

But this is different. Everyone knows her age, everyone talks about it, even she doesn't deny it. Besides, this party is for a good cause -- to finance a presidential run. So be it then: "Good wishes to the senator for her birthday," says Costello. "Let's hope that pretty soon someone brings back the music into the White House."

That someone is standing nearby, beaming in one of her many black pantsuits, combined with a silk blouse and a single string of pearls: Hillary Clinton, her hair teased into a sugary sculpture, her face as shiny as a polished Golden Delicious apple.

The entire audience -- 3,900 friends, fans and assorted cohorts -- jumps to its feet. Led by Costello and the rock band The Wallflowers, they drag through the obligatory rendition of "Happy Birthday." Only the punch line is different: "Happy Birthday, Mrs. President!"

A bit premature, sure, but hey, the mood is festive enough. On Thursday night at the historic Beacon Theater on New York's Broadway, former President Bill Clinton hosted a not-exactly-intimate birthday soiree for his wife, a Democratic presidential candidate. She's turning 60 Friday, and that needs to be celebrated -- and, of course, politically exploited.

And so for weeks, Clinton has hawked party passes like a scalper selling Madonna tickets, by e-mail and direct mail. Seats in the nosebleed section went for $100 each, while the best ones, all the way up front in the "Rockstar" category, cost $2,300. The grand total of the evening comes out to more than $1.5 million, and every single dollar goes into Clinton's campaign coffers.

After all, there are few things in Hillary Clinton's life these days that aren't put to use to help her campaign. The $80 million she has raised so far didn't come by accident. Every toast is a fundraiser, every dinner a mega check.

Usually, this happens behind closed doors. But this time, many Clinton fans didn't want to miss the chance to bask publicly in their own generosity. After all, here is another child of their baby boomer generation passing the magic torch. The bright, domed lobby of the Beacon is brimming with rich Democrats. They mingle among hot dog stands, under a huge "Hillary for President" banner.

Joe Sixpack wouldn't recognize many of these faces. Yet insiders know the party's financial eminences grises very well. There's celebrity lawyer David Boies, who in 2000 fought for Al Gore before the Supreme Court. There's basketball legend "Magic" Johnson with his wife Cookie. There's billionaire heir Edgar Bronfman and real estate mogul Steven Rattner. There's gallery owner Tom Healy and his boyfriend, investor Fred Hochberg.

Among them, the entire left wing of Wall Street, including Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, investment banker Roger Altman and private equity managers Feisal Afzal and Alan Patricof.

Also on the guest list: Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president in 1984 -- a trailblazer for Hillary Clinton's efforts today -- and many officials from the first Clinton era, such as former Ambassador Carl Spielvogel and Vernon Jordan, still one of the most powerful players in Washington. Clinton has a special relationship with Jordan: Back then, he gave Monica Lewinsky legal advice and helped her later to find a job in New York City.

But that is all yesterday's news. Today is all about getting Hillary Clinton back into the White House -- but this time straight into the Oval Office. If she gets in, her philandering husband will have to settle for the first lady's office in the East Wing.

The evening's host is Hollywood comedian Billy Crystal, who has frequently hosted the Oscars. He has felt true optimism three times in his life, he says. The first time was the election of John F. Kennedy. The second time was the election of Bill Clinton. And the third time is "now, with the prospect of the first woman in the White House."

Costello, himself already 53, plays a few songs, including "The Scarlet Tide," which was featured in the 2003 movie "Cold Mountain," and the 1977 classic "Alison." The guests dance in the aisles, with Clinton leading the way. Cell phone cameras click everywhere.

The Wallflowers join Costello on the stage, which is subtly decorated with silk curtains and lattice-work. Their lead singer is Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, who's sitting up front. It feels like a class reunion of the 60's.

Clinton herself appears to take her age in her stride. Even though she's older now than her main Democratic rivals Barack Obama, 46, John Edwards, 54, and Bill Richardson, 59, none of them have yet to find a way to derail her seemingly inevitable march towards the nomination.

Clinton told the New York Daily News Thursday that "it feels great" to be 60, adding that "I'm so grateful that I have a project like running for president that I believe in so strongly." That's one way of looking at it: running for the White House as therapy against a belated midlife crisis.

Bill Clinton hops on stage -- the same stage where he celebrated his 60th last year. Three gigantic, soft-lens black-and-white photographs hang from the rafters: Hillary as a baby, Hillary as young woman, Hillary today, in a flattering pose. "Still looking very beautiful," Clinton purrs.

Daughter Chelsea in tow, Clinton almost turns sentimental as he reports on Hillary's and his 32nd wedding anniversary two weeks prior. She was only 23 when they met, he recalls: "The poor child didn't know any better not to talk to me." His eyes glitter moistly.

But even this surge of sentimentality seems intended to fan another campaign myth -- the myth of the happy couple who has weathered all storms. Ditto Hillary Clinton's interview in the November issue of the magazine Essence, in which she brags about "my deep abiding friendship with my husband," adding: "I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges, and I'm really happy that I made that decision."

He's seems happy about that, too, and is now returning the favor by campaigning on her behalf and recommending her, "because of her personal qualities," for the presidency -- the first time he has rooted for her this openly. "We love you, and I'm so proud of you," he croons. "Happy birthday!"

The birthday girl acts like she is touched, and maybe she is, as much as she allows herself to be in all her merciless emotional discipline. "I feel very blessed," she says. "I'm so grateful… for your confidence in my candidacy." She promptly segues into her usual stump speech about education reform and health care, an end to the Iraq war and how "we're gonna take this country back" next year.

She even manages to aim a dig at the Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has just made himself somewhat unpopular in New York by declaring himself a fan of the Boston Red Sox. "I have been a fan and I remain a fan of the New York Yankees," Clinton -- herself a New Yorker only since 2000 -- calls out amidst cheers.

And then it's over -- a bit abruptly. Many of the paying guests linger indecisively around their seats as if waiting for the second act of the show.

"People", shouts Billy Crystal. "Go home!"


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