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Cars Get Towed When Clinton Visits

February 11, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The president is coming to town. Do you know where your car is?

Vacant vehicles can hide bombs and snipers. So before President Clinton moves about a city he’s visiting, police often post ``no parking″ signs and tow hundreds of automobiles.

The president is protected, but drivers left playing hide-and-seek with their cars often are annoyed.

Drivers in Philadelphia and San Francisco beware. Clinton is scheduled to visit in the next few weeks.

In Chappaqua, N.Y., a handful of homeowners can no longer park on the street in their cul-de-sac where the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton bought a house. New Yorkers to the south know all too well what happens when they park in presidential no-parking zones.

``It was crazy. People had to go to work. Nobody knew where their cars were,″ said Ilene Marchese of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her family’s two cars were among 157 vehicles towed one night last year when Clinton was in the neighborhood to attend a political fund-raiser. The next morning, people trying to get to work were looking for their cars.

``It was impossible. People were screaming,″ she said. ``This is Brooklyn. It doesn’t take much to set people off, but I think it was so inconsiderate.″

Clinton attends a fund-raiser in New Jersey. Twenty-five cars are ticketed and towed. Clinton goes to his wife’s birthday celebration at the Ford Center for Performing Arts in Manhattan. Police post ``no parking″ signs on dozens of blocks and tow cars whose owners ignore the warning.

Drivers in Washington are the most frequent victims. Local police say they tow about 1,000 vehicles a year to secure streets so Clinton can make speeches, have lunch or catch a basketball game.

``People are pretty understanding; complaints are rare,″ said Chaun Yount, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service. ``We want to inconvenience the public as little as possible, but we have to balance that with our security needs.″

Sometimes there’s even a perquisite. This week, when Clinton attended a fund-raiser in Georgetown, plows were dispatched to clear ice and snow from parking spots on the street. ``I guess they didn’t want anybody slipping and sliding around,″ said Valerie Burden, who moved two cars to make way for Clinton. ``For those of us without driveways, it was great.″

When people park in presidential no-parking zones, some cities’ police departments tow cars to a nearby block. In other cities, cars are taken to impoundment lots.

``We post the signs. For the most part, people get the idea. If they choose to park there, we tow them. Well, we relocate them _ to the nearest available, legal parking spot,″ said New York City Police Lt. Dennis Cirillo.

The White House sometimes gives the police short notice.

Aubrey Dirkes walked out of his Washington apartment one morning last year to learn that Clinton was having breakfast at a nearby hotel. ``The entire street of cars was gone _ maybe 10 or 15 cars,″ Dirkes said. ``I looked for `no parking’ signs. They weren’t there.″

A police officer told him he’d just taken them down.

Baltimore Police Maj. John McEntee Jr. said the city tries to get signs posted three days in advance. Atlanta Police Lt. Pete Andresen said officers often go back to make sure signs are still in place. The earlier the signs go up, the fewer cars towed, they said.

When Clinton attended a fund-raiser at a private home in Elizabeth, N.J., 25 motorists who didn’t move their cars were given $25 tickets and had to retrieve their vehicles from an impound lot.

``I’m sure nobody was happy about it,″ said Elizabeth Police Capt. Mark Kurdyla.

Raymond Lesniak, who hosted the fund-raiser, said the towing was necessary. ``There could have been a car with a bomb,″ he said.

The practice didn’t start with Clinton.

Back in 1992, about 90 cars were towed from around the University of Chicago when President Bush visited.

Sharazard Washington parked her light blue Mustang in an area later blanketed with ``no parking″ signs.

``I think it’s important for our leaders to be secure, but I thought it was really crummy for them to put up the signs after the cars were already parked there,″ she said.

Washington said she sent her $25 parking ticket to the university president with a note that said: ``You should take care of this.″

He did.

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