New York Restaurant Owner 'Shocked' Over Ex-President Clinton's Demands to Remove Chelsea Photo
A photo of Chelsea Clinton and New York restaurateur Nino Selimaj, displayed in his restaurant's window, might not be there much longer.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
NEW YORK —The owner of a New York City restaurant is “heartbroken” over a letter he received from former President Bill Clinton's lawyer asking that a photograph of daughter Chelsea be removed from his eatery — or face legal action.
The photo, taken of the former first daughter with Osso Buco owner Nino Selimaj, has been on display in the window of the Greenwich Village haunt for about five years, the restaurateur said. It was snapped when Chelsea, now 27, was having dinner there with a group of about 30 friends.
But Selimaj said he was shocked when he received a letter from Clinton’s lawyer Douglas J. Band on Sept. 18 threatening legal action if the photograph of “private citizen” Chelsea was not taken down. The photograph is still on display near the front entrance of the restaurant — only now, the letter is posted alongside it.
“We ask that you immediately remove that picture and any and all pictures displaying Ms. Clinton,” the letter warns. “We reserve the right to exercise any and all options available to us if you refuse to comply.”
Selimaj said he won’t take the picture down unless he’s “forced,” and he’d like to try to resolve the matter with the former president first. The Italian restaurant owner’s office was in the process of drafting a reply Wednesday that he hoped would be sent off by day’s end.
“I was disappointed because she meant a lot to me. I was heartbroken,” he told FOXNews.com. “I don’t think I’m taking it down until I’m forced. I hope I’m solving the problem with him with a letter.”
Selimaj has several pictures of celebrities on the walls inside his restaurant and a few, along with Chelsea's, displayed on the eatery's front window.
Clinton’s lawyer told Selimaj that the use of the photo wasn’t allowed because Chelsea Clinton hadn’t given the OK.
“Ms. Clinton, a private citizen, was not consulted prior to this picture being displayed, and thus, her permission was not given for you to do so,” the letter read. “While she may have dined at your restaurant, this does not serve as an endorsement.”
Selimaj admitted that the photo in the window does draw customers.
“The picture helps for business,” he told a small news conference outside the restaurant Wednesday. But he claimed he hadn’t contacted reporters about the dispute to lure diners in.
It wasn't clear why the Clintons object to the photo — or whether it could be a simple matter of vanity. Selimaj said he didn't know if Chelsea wants it taken down because she isn't happy with the way she looks in the picture.
"If she doesn't like it, I would love to take a new photo," he said.
Bill Clinton's New York City office was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
A lawyer who walked by the restaurant Wednesday said the Clintons might have a case, because the use of photographs of private citizens or celebrities for commercial purposes can sometimes be subject to lawsuits.
“She’s a public figure, so they could claim he’s exploiting her image,” said Paul Leavin, 61, of New York. He said the issue of whether or not the ex-president’s daughter is a private citizen, as well as whether the photo was being used for commercial gain, were both up for dispute.
Other onlookers had mixed feelings about the verbal scuffle.
"I don't see why Bill Clinton is getting involved," said NYU student Julia Armet, 19. "Maybe she's pregnant."
Though earlier reports suggested the ordeal had soured Selimaj on the idea of supporting Chelsea’s mother in her presidential run, he told FOXNews.com he still might consider voting for the New York senator.
“I’m a Republican, but I will think about voting for Hillary Clinton,” he said, laughing.
And while he’s upset about the way the Clintons are handling this photograph matter, the Albanian native still admires Bill Clinton because he's grateful for what the former president did for Albanian refugees in Kosovo.
Selimaj, the father of four daughters, speaks with fondness of Clinton’s little girl. He hopes he'll be able to keep the picture up — and said the Clintons are always welcome at his restaurant.
Chelsea, he said, has dined at Osso Buco a few times since that night he posed with her, but not in recent years.
“Chelsea is like my own daughter,” Selimaj said. “President Clinton is still my favorite president.”