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Looking up at the ceiling, it seemed to Mayor Anthony M. Masiello that it was a long way to come "for a boy from West Avenue."

At the invitation of President Clinton, Masiello was one of four mayors of large cities to enjoy a late snack with the president Wednesday and stay overnight in the White House.

Though it wasn't the famous Lincoln bedroom but one of several guest rooms in the private quarters of the first family, Masiello said, "it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my political life."

Masiello, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and Mayors Sharon Sayles Belton of Minneapolis and Elizabeth G. Flores of Laredo, Texas, arrived in the family quarters for a late supper about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Clinton soon joined them for what turned into a three-hour discussion of issues ranging from computers to housing and education. "I never fully appreciated President Clinton's wide knowledge and his intelligence" until Wednesday night, Masiello said. The mayor described the president as very excited about his State of the Union address and said he "is fully involved in the writing of it."

"He said one of his biggest challenges is cutting it down," Masiello said. The Democratic president and the mayors discussed the candidacy of Vice President Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid to win the seat of retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"The president thinks Gore is getting stronger as a candidate," Masiello said, "and he volunteered that Gore may make a better president than he has been, but he didn't elaborate on that." Masiello reported that the president is "very happy" about his wife's upcoming Senate run.

"As he left us at about 1:15 in the morning, he said he was resuming work on his speech," Masiello said.

The mayor is here for the 68th winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. On behalf of the city, Masiello accepted two awards from the conference for successful public-private partnerships.

One citation was for the city's cooperation with the University at Buffalo and the Town of Amherst for the University Community Initiative to help rebuild and stabilize neighborhoods around UB's campuses.

The other was for the city's public-private partnership with American Water Works Co., which took over operation of the city's water system in 1997 under a private contract.

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