Trouble In the Short Run

Clinton's Jogging Retinue Irks Commuters

by, Brian Mooar
Washington Post Staff Writer

President Clinton's jog yesterday through the streets of Washington began before dawn with remarkable stealth and anonymity. It ended with a winded chief executive walking home, his snail-paced security motorcade trailing behind and traffic tied up along a long stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As governor of Arkansas, Clinton could run through downtown Little Rock and chat amiably with anyone he met before strolling to the neighborhood McDonald's for a cup of decaf.

But the new president's frequent jogs in the nation's capital threaten to become a major headache for morning commuters, D.C. police and the Secret Service agents assigned to protect his life, according to police and some members of the media assigned to keep tabs on him.

Clinton's jogging also has raised concerns that any tourist, would-be jogging partner or protester, with an ax to grind could literally get within stone's throw of the president just by standing on the right street corner at the right time.

And it isn't hard to learn the president's route ahead of time. The Secret Service goes to great lengths to keep details of Clinton's jogs under wraps. But the route and time of departure are disclosed to D.C. police escorts who share such information via normal police radio communications.

Secret Service and D.C. police officials would not comment for this story. One officer, asked about Clinton's daily jogs, erupted with a stream of obscenities and suggested the early morning forays would come to an abrupt halt after the first time agents intercept someone trying to do the president harm.

"An incident usually has to be precipitated before they get the drift," said another officer familiar with presidential security. "These presidents come in here thinking they're made of Teflon."

At yesterday's regular news briefing, White House communications director George Stephanopoulos was asked whether the president is safe jogging along city streets in light of fatal shootings outside CIA- headquarters on Monday.

"Well, the president has his Secret Service detail and we feel that he can be fully protected," Stephanopoulos said.

"I view this whole proposition of the jogging with dread," said Helen Thomas, a veteran correspondent for United Press International who has covered every administration since John F. Kennedy's. "We'd like to know that he's nice and secure and safe and happy in the Oval Office. Not that we want to deprive him of human contact."

Clinton was barely noticed as he and his entourage trotted out the southwest gate of the White House at 6 a.m. and headed down 17th Street toward the Mall. A dozen vehicles--rumbling D.C. police motorcycles, heavily armed Secret Service "war wagons," two media vans and a black limousine--lagged behind.

Vehicles in the motorcade stopped at traffic lights until Clinton, his jogging partner, Sen. Bob Kerrey (DNeb.), and a cluster of jogging Secret Service agents reached busy Constitution Avenue NW. Then traffic was swiftly cut off as Clinton jogged unimpeded through the intersection and onto the Mall.

About 60 yards behind the president, traffic began moving again, at a crawl. As it had on other mornings, the element of surprise worked. Clinton's caravan passed before most bleary-eyed commuters and pedestrians could tell what had happened. But one driver in a white van, stopped in traffic at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, figured out what was causing the delay. "I hope I don't have to put up with this every morning," he shouted angrily at the passing motorcade.

If Clinton goes ahead with his plans to jog on public streets, he would become the most publicly visible president since Harry S. Truman.

Truman insisted on taking-vigorous half-hour walks through Washington each morning at sunrise, even after a 1950 assassination attempt by Puerto Rican nationalists that left one guard dead and two wounded. But the Secret Service eventually persuaded him to limit his daily outings to secluded areas that could be secured easily.

Police say many new presidents want to shed the layers of security that insulate and isolate them from the public. Jimmy Carter, for example, initially ordered that the traditional flashing lights and' sirens be dropped from his motorcades and that escorts stoP at traffic lights. The order was rescinded after his limousine became mired in traffic.

But George Bush, an avid jogger and perhaps one,of the MOST frenetic occupants of the White House, respected the security concerns:and limited his running to military bases and other easily secured areas.

For those left in the wake, Clinton's jogs mean disruption in routine.

"It's a headache," said Fred Simmons, a driver with Capitol Cab, Because cab drivers in the District are allowed to charge only for zones of travel, "any time you stop ... it's taking your money away.

Patricia A. Lambe, a Metro spokeswoman, said Clinton's daily jogs could pose problems for some bus riders.

"If he's going to be as religious as Truman was with his walks; people are going to have to take that into consideration in their commuting plans," Lambe said. But delays because of VIP motorcades, she added, are "just one of those things that come with living in Washington."

Ronica Colabo, 27, a nursing assistant who catches the No. 80 bus about 6:30a.m. daily outside the northeast gate of the White House, said last week that she feared; traffic delays caused by the president's jogs; could disrupt her work. I am trying to pay my bills," Colaba said.

"I could lose my job because everything has to be done on schedule, Why doesn't he run on his property!" Not everyone is upset about Clinton's jogging.

Each morning before dawn, runners begin gathering outside the White House hoping to jog with--or even catch a glimpse of-the new president.

I've kind of been vulturing around, circling the place waiting for him to come out laughed Beverly Knight, 35, a tourist from Jeffersonville, Ind., who jogged around, the White House for more than an hour Friday waiting in vain for Clinton to appear.

"I'd love to run with him," Knight wistfully.

Staff Writers Hamil R. Harris and Stephen C. Fehr
contributed to this report.