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Tomorrow is Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Day!

July 30, 2010
Chelsea Clinton with Marc Mezvinsky

Tomorrow will see former first daughter Chelsea Clinton tying the knots with investment banker Marc Mezvinsky. For the past couple of weeks, US media hype over the nuptials is verging on hysteria. America being America, the internet has been abuzz with questions and rumors about Chelsea’s upcoming nuptials, a ceremony that is shaping up to be a potent combination of D.C. power and Hollywood glitz.

Chelsea Clinton with Marc Mezvinsky

Who’s this lucky groom Marc Mezvinsky? He is a 32-year old Goldman Sachs banker and has known Chelsea since their teens. The two first met as teenagers in Hilton Head, S.C., during a Renaissance Weekend, the annual intellectual and spiritual fest popularized by the Clintons. Both attended Stanford University, though their romance did not bloom until a few years ago. And both know firsthand the price of political loss and scandal.  Chelsea is an only child, but Marc is one of 11, some adopted. Mezvinsky is Jewish and Clinton is Christian. Stolberg said it’s likely both a minister and a rabbi will preside at the nuptials, but it’s unlikely Chelsea will convert to Judaism after the marriage.

Mezvinsky’s mother, former Representative Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, is a one-time television journalist who was elected in 1992 on President Clinton’s coattails. She lost her seat two years later after voting for the president’s budget.  She currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where her spring 2010 course offerings included “Dealing With the Media.” She is divorced from the bridegroom’s father, former Representative Ed Mezvinsky of Iowa.

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky

Ed Mezvinsky’s nickname among pool reporters in the 1970s was “Fast Talkin’ Eddie.” The former star athlete turned politician spent four years in the U.S. House of Representatives before going into business for himself, hatching a string of fraudulent activity the FBI later said infiltratated nearly every one of his business deals between 1980 and 2000. After pleading guilty to 31 of 69 charges of bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud in 2001, Mezvinsky went on to serve federal prison time and was released April 11, 2008. He is now living in western New York, and working as a health advocate for low-income people and refugees.

Ed Mezvinsky

Americans are eternally fascinated with presidential children, and perhaps none more so than Chelsea, who arrived at the White House as a gawky 12-year-old with frizzy hair and braces, and grew up before the nation’s eyes, under a cone of silence that she has broken only rarely, to campaign for her mother, for instance, when Mrs. Clinton’s bid for the presidency was in jeopardy. Today, she is a chic strawberry-blonde, with experience working at a hedge fund, a deep interest in public policy and, as of January, a master’s degree from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Yet for Americans of a certain age, the enduring image of Chelsea Clinton is that of the 18-year-old college girl walking on the White House lawn, her back to the camera, holding one hand of each parent — literally the glue binding her family together after her father’s painful confession of marital infidelities. Even then, she seemed to exude a combination of dignity and distance.

Chelsea holding one hand of each parent after her father's confession of marital infidelilities

Always extremely private, Chelsea Clinton was 12 years old when her family moved into the White House. When Bill Clinton was revealed to have been unfaithful, it was Chelsea who seemed to keep the family together. A doting father, Bill Clinton once postponed an overseas presidential trip to help her study for exams.

Asked why there is such fascination with Chelsea’s wedding, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times told Today: “We don’t have royalty in this country. We’re particularly fascinated with Chelsea, because she was such a gawky teenager. She grew up obviously into a lovely young woman.”

Because the Clintons are keeping even the most mundane details of their daughter’s wedding private, the whole affair has been shrouded in secrecy. However, within the tight-knit circle of New York wedding coordinators, some tidbits are beginning to leak.

While the public has demonstrated a voracious appetite for details about the wedding, no factor has gotten more attention than its projected cost. It is rumored that the lavish wedding will cost anywhere between $2 to $5 million. As far as recent presidential weddings go, Chelsea Clinton’s will take the cake.

It is now almost certain that the wedding will take place at Astor Courts, the former 50-acre estate of John Jacob Astor IV in the picturesque town of Rhinebeck, N.Y. The Astor Courts is a 13,000-foot Beaux Arts pavilion built between 1902 and 1904 for John Jacob Astor IV and designed by Stanford White to evoke the Grand Trianon at Versailles.The mansion boasts an indoor tennis court and white marble swimming pool. The property is now owned by Kathleen Hammer, a contributor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential and Senate bids.

Astor Courts

Inside the mansion

The postcard-pretty Rhinebeck, a little town of upscale boutiques and pricey homes 90 miles north of New York City, has witnessed an avalanche of security personnel, reporters and rubber-neckers. Signs congratulating the 30-year-old former first daughter are posted on shop windows in the Hudson Valley town.  Rhinebeck, population less than 8,000, is laying out the welcome mat.

Rhinebeck at dusk

Best wishes from the residents of Rhinebeck

“It’s like having the Olympics in your town,” exclaimed Alex Batkin, manager of the up-market Wing and Clover arts-and-craft boutique. Batkin’s store revealed at least one success: a painting bought as a gift for the betrothed. The picture is emblazoned “Chelsea and Marc” over a naive-style depiction of a wedding cake surrounded by trees, squirrels and a fish-filled river.

Painting by Diana Huff depicting Chelsea Clinton's wedding in Rhinebeck

Painting by Diana Huff depicting Chelsea Clinton's wedding in Rhinebeck

Another entrepreneur seeking wedding joy is Rhinebeck Deli, where the menu features the Hillary Clinton-themed “Secretary of Steak.”

Even the Hudson Valley Renegades, a minor league baseball team, wants to get in on the act. Their mascot, a man dressed as a raccoon, stood at Rhinebeck’s main crossroads Tuesday with a sign reading: “Chelsea Will U Marry Me?” Locals and bemused tourists grinned at the sight.

Mascot of the Hudson Valley Renegades getting in on the act

The wedding planner is Bryan Rafanelli of Boston, who has worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton and produced inaugural balls for Mr. Obama. Rafanelli’s reputation for orchestrating sumptuous parties has won him high-profile admirers from Boston to Washington to Palm Beach.

Bryan Rafanelli

“Bryan is the Chanel of party-planning,’’ says Boston socialite Lisa Pierpont, a friend and occasional client of Rafanelli’s. “He can talk to the prince and the pauper, and he has an impeccable eye. When people hear it’s a Rafanelli event, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re going.’ ’’

The wedding gown, expected to cost about $25,000, will either be a creation by Oscar de la Renta or Vera Wang.  The New York Times is certain it will be de la Renta.  But a lot are now saying it will be a Vera Wang.

Vera Wang

Some of Vera Wang's creations

Oscar de la Renta

Some of Oscar de la Renta's wedding gowns

Both Boston-based Winston Flowers and Four Seasons George V Hotel’s artistic director Jeff Leatham will be handling the flowers. The flowers alone could cost $250,000.

Jeff Leatham

Jeff Leatham's floral arrangement

A stylish floral arrangement by Winston Flowers

The catering job will be shared by Blue Ribbon Restaurants, St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, and Olivier Cheng Catering and Events. Chelsea is a vegan. The food will include vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, but there will also be grass-fed organic beef on the menu. It’ll reportedly be gluten-free complete with a vegan wedding cake.

A creation by Olivier Cheng Catering And Events

Jimmy Vali, whose Web site boasts that his clients include Glenn Close, is coordinating the music.

Jimmy Vali

Unlike everyone else on the planet, Chelsea Clinton’s wedding guests won’t need gas masks to do their business in a porta-potty — because Bill’s daughter is renting the swankiest outhouses in town. The portable latrines have actual porcelain toilets, stereo music and hot running water — oh yeah, and they’re HUGE. Rental for these porta-potties is estimated to be $15,000.

A luxury porta-potty trailer

Interior of Porta-Potties Trailer

Americans are also intrigued about who are included in the ultra-exclusive guest list. With the invite list limited to 500 names, Chelsea has apparently instituted a strict no-strangers policy: She must personally know every invitee. It’s an intimate gathering for a family that knows the most famous people in nearly every walk of life on the planet.

Knowing the former president or the secretary of state isn’t good enough to get in. To make the cut, guests must have had a personal connection to Chelsea, 30, and her groom, 32, and not just to her famous parents.

President Obama — Hillary Clinton’s boss — is on the list, but the White House says he won’t go. It is rumored that the Obamas were invited but declined, in an effort to help keep the press corps from swamping the proceedings. But don’t count them out.  Though the public has been led to believe that the President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama won’t be attending, security plans are still being developed for such a possibility.

The big question: Will the Obamas be attending the wedding?

Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and Ted Turner are among the 500 guests. Also attending will be various members of the Clinton “inner circle,” including former British Prime Minister John Major, former deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Democratic donor Denise Rich.

As secretary of state, the mother of the bride, or MOTB, as she has taken to referring to herself, is accustomed to keeping secrets, and this one is no different.

In an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell in Pakistan, Hillary Clinton said, “My lips are sealed. I am under very strict orders not to talk about it, and I think for the right reasons, because it is hers, and it is a family wedding. The people coming are her friends and people who have been meaningful in her life, as it should be.”

When CNN’s Crowley asked her which was harder — negotiating Middle East peace or planning this wedding — Hillary replied with a smile, “Well, I’d probably call it a draw.”

Former President Bill Clinton, the father of the bride, had previously told TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager that his role is to pay for the wedding. At Chelsea’s request, he’s taken off 15 pounds so he looks his best walking her down the aisle.

Chelsea Clinton with her parents

Stolberg said the mother of the bride has been minutely involved in Chelsea’s wedding.

“She’s been absolutely hands-on. She’s been viewing flower arrangements by e-mail. She said that she’s been squeezing in tastings and dress selections. She’s obviously very excited about this, as is her husband,” Stolberg said.

Is Bill helping mastermind the nuptials? Yes, to a limited degree. Though he had said that his role was limited to walking Chelsea down the aisle and paying the bills, he told NBC that his daughter had opted to tap his world-leader expertise: “Chelsea has been good enough to include me in the decisions…so I love that.” Still, Bill is making sure to keep the focus on the bride. “I am going to try not to cry because this isn’t about me, it’s about her. And if I am crying then it becomes partly about me and I don’t even want to be mentioned in the story except that I didn’t stumble walking down the aisle. So I am going to try but I may not be able to do it,” he said at June’s Fortune/Time/CNN global forum.

“My daughter is happy. I like and admire my future son-in-law, so I couldn’t be happier about it,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley in a January interview when asked about what he thought of his future son-in-law.

Should any wedding, even a Clinton wedding, really cost that much? Between the $15,000 deluxe portable toilets, several hundred thousand dollars worth of flowers, glass-walled tents, and premium security the bill for the nuptials is being estimated at between $2 and $5 million. Should we expect no less for the daughter of political royalty?

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