Hosted by New York’s civic establishment, Chelsea Clinton goes a little more public

Chelsea Clinton with Ray Kelly. (Reid Pillifant)
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Chelsea Clinton took another modulated step toward being a public figure on Monday morning, moderating a panel on the nonprofit sector at a breakfast event hosted by the Association for a Better New York.

A crowd of about 150 business and nonprofit leaders crowded into the 10th floor of One World Trade Center to see Clinton, whose family has never been more popular, which has in turn invited a variety of speculation what they intend to do next.

Clinton kept the attention of the audience, and the reporters in attendance, on the chosen substance of her talk, and carefully away from any of that speculation.

She told the crowd that this month marked the 25th anniversary of her first visit to New York, when her mother and father, who was then the governor of Arkansas, took her to see Rockefeller Center, the Christmas tree, the Rockettes and "Cats." (She said she was "slightly disappointed" when the riders on her subway car didn't spontaneously break out into song.)

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"Although that didn't happen, I was enchanted and I knew that it was a place I someday wanted to live," said Clinton, who moved to New York in 2003. 

She also said: "I cannot imagine living anywhere else."

She has been rumored to be interested in a run for Congress in recent months, though it's unclear where she would actually run. (One of the more talked-about possibilities is Westchester, where her parents live in the district represented by Nita Lowey, but Lowey just won the ranking member spot on the powerful Appropriations Committee.)

When one of the panelists, Josh Wachs of Share Our Strength, referenced "your home state of Arkansas," the crowd chuckled and Clinton just smiled.

Among the notable guests at the ABNY breakfast were police commissioner Ray Kelly and M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, who had to leave before the event, but was recognized cordially from the podium by Bill Rudin, with whom he recently had a minor spat. 

Rudin also called out Councilmembers Leroy Comrie, Liz Crowley and Tish James from the podium (though the only one I saw was Crowley).

Clinton, who is under contract as a special correspondent for NBC news in an arrangement that is explicitly not political, explained that she had invited Wachs, along with Erica Hamilton of City Year New York, and Rain Henderson of Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in order to focus on the plight of children.

"So often our most vulnerable, our children, are not thought about in a coherent way, not only here in New York City, but in our national dialogue," she said, in introducing the panelists. "And that was something I felt particularly over the summer, in full candor, during our election season."

The questioners duly kept their focus on that topic, asking how technology impacted nonprofit work and whether the organizations transferred data effectively.

Clinton chatted with Kelly after the event, and posed for pictures with well-wishers, but didn't take questions.

Helping to deflect the press was Rachel Adler, who works for the public relations firm that has been handling Clinton's careful rollout as a civic figure. The firm's owner, Matthew Hiltzik, was also in attendance.