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PASSIONS HIGH AS PRESIDENT TAKES LUMPS FROM VIEWERS

Life in Western New York went on pretty much as usual during Monday's broadcast of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. This was no O.J. Simpson verdict.

And for those who did pause to watch part or all of the historic broadcast, reaction depended on your point of view.

Among students catching the testimony on television in the Canisius College student center, a deep sense of disappointment -- even disgust -- seemed to dominate. There, viewers of the videotaped testimony often shook their heads in disbelief at some of the explicit questions -- and answers.

Characterizations of the president's performance were far from flattering.

"I see Slimy is on again," one student said after catching a few moments of the telecast and then resuming his trek down the hallway.

Another, Kristy Mangione, a junior psychology major from Cheektowaga, was disappointed.

"I'm a Democrat, and it really burns me up that I supported him and he acts like this," she said.

"If I had kids, I wouldn't want them to even hear what's on the news. He's a terrible role model for children."

Clinton drew the most reaction in the Canisius lounge when he tried to answer the most explicit questions about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky. As questions about "cigars" and "gratification" and "arousal" were volleyed back and forth, several students hooted, hollered and laughed -- mocking the president's legalistic definition of "sexual relations."

"I'm mad at him; it's like he won't answer any question. He tries to go around everything," said Kristal Payne, a freshman computer science major from Buffalo.

Lawyers and legal scholars, meanwhile, took a more technical view. Clinton might be guilty of many things in the Lewinsky scandal, but not perjury and obstruction of justice, according to a sampling of lawyers who watched or heard his testimony.

Clinton appeared evasive and too technical to some when questioned by prosecutors from the independent counsel's office, but lawyers found him an excellent witness.

"I'm just sort of in awe of the man's command of language and the meaning of words," defense attorney Paul J. Cambria said. "This is the first time I've had a chance, now that he's in my world, to see just how brilliant the guy is."

Perjury is a difficult crime to prosecute, said Edward C. Cosgrove, a former Erie County district attorney, and what he saw of Clinton's videotaped testimony did not meet the standard.

"I saw it for about an hour," Cosgrove said. "I'm not certain that what I saw convinces me of anything -- except that the president is a pretty good witness."

Retired State Supreme Court Justice Theodore S. Kasler thought that Clinton "shaved the truth" a few times during his four-hour testimony to the grand jury, especially when questioned about what type of sex he had had with the former White House intern.

"I wasn't particularly impressed with (his answers about) the type of sex," Kasler said. "He sent me to the Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary. I had to look up the definition of 'sexual intercourse.' I thought he was being a little too cute."

But perjury?

"The only perjury he said was that Monica Lewinsky was a nice woman," Kasler said.

Clinton watchers were hard to find in department stores and community centers.

The electronics department of Kaufmann's in Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga was a sea of television sets with the president's image staring back for anybody who cared to watch. But nobody was watching, except a man waiting for his wife to finish shopping.

"It's amazing," said the retired executive, who did not wish to be identified. "I've been here over 45 minutes watching, and not one other person has joined me."

Aron Wild, manager of Stereo Advantage on Main Street in Amherst, noted that a few customers seemed to catch glimpses of the president's testimony but that no one seemed engrossed for very long.

"They were mostly watching in passing," he said.

Some of that was reflected at the Tosh Collins Senior Citizens Center in South Buffalo, where a power failure scotched any television viewing.

"I'm really not interested in hearing the sordid details of what happened," said Frances Byrne, the facility's supervisor. "The man has apologized to more people than he should have. I don't know why he would apologize to Monica Lewinsky, though. She's the one who did it."

On the Erie Community College South Campus in Orchard Park, Stacy Ramsey of Cheektowaga said the testimony would not change her mind.

"I never liked Clinton before this -- and I don't like him now," the office management major said.

In the Hilbert College Campus Center in Hamburg, Yamahi Jumanah, a freshman criminal justice major from Buffalo, took on the role of Clinton defender.

"They're really dragging this guy through the dirt," said Jumanah, the lone Clinton watcher in the center.

"It's pretty boring stuff," he said. "I can tell the man's agitated, but I think he's doing an excellent job of running the country, and I think he should finish off his term. I have respect for him on a professional level -- so this testimony has no bearing for me."

In Ray Flynn's Golden Dollar at 815 Main St., a handful of downtown workers were watching television highlights over a drink before heading home.

"I think it's crazy -- why do I have to know the details?" exclaimed Ken Harrington, a Buffalo electrician. "Intercourse? Oral sex? I think he knew what they meant. I think he's lying."

At that moment, the president was carefully choosing his words: "The contact is (only) with the lips of another person."

A howl of disbelief went up in the tavern.

"I don't need to know this!" Harrington said again.

Another patron, North Buffalo secretary Cathleen Nasca, used the Italian word for whore to describe Ms. Lewinsky.

"I'm not concerned about them," she said of the president and the ex-intern. "I'm concerned about the country, in the eyes of other countries, and how they see our leadership. The Iranians can watch this and mock us. And Monica could have gone to Saddam Hussein and blackmailed Clinton."

Patty Cook-Wood, a Buffalo quality technician, said she called members of Congress to complain about the video's release.

"This is a shame," she said.

At the same time, she was critical of the president.

"I didn't vote for him the second time," she said, describing the president with an epithet. "But if they try to impeach him for this, I won't vote for them again."

Neither the president's testimony nor its highlights at night were shown to senior citizens visiting the Gloria J. Parks Community Center at 3242 Main St.

"We did not air it, because the city's policy was to not show it in schools or city buildings," explained Kate Custina, program coordinator.

But that did not stop Dave Carlin of Elma, the building superintendent, from listening to Clinton on his radio while he worked.

"He knew it would be aired at the time he testified," Carlin concluded. "If it was going to go before Congress, it would be released to the public. He put on a masterful show for us."

Kelley Lynn Natalino, assistant to the director of the center, agreed:

"The way he kept referring back to his feelings of it being invasive -- all of that was for laymen listening in, not the lawyers in the room. He knew it would be aired, even if it had to be leaked by someone."

News Staff Reporters Karen Brady, Harold McNeil and Anthony Cardinale contributed to this article.

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