Thursday, October 18, 2012

Roasting On The Menu: President Obama And Mitt Romney Attend Alfred Smith Charity Dinner

The candidates trade zingers and barbs at white-tie charity affair...
New York City: Two days after the showdown at their second presidential debate at Hofstra University, President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney met again on Thursday evening to roast each other at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.  The Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s annual charity benefit hosts the presidential candidates each election year, and about 1,600 well-heeled guests--including many bold face names--were at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Park Avenue as the two displayed their comic chops. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hosted the white tie-and-ball gown affair, where the menu included poached lobster tail, lamb, and a tropical fruit and dark chocolate cadeau.  (Above: The President, the Cardinal, and Romney)

The political rivals were equal parts pointed and self deprecating as they traded barbs, which covered themes from the long and bitter election campaign, their two debates, the media, Vice President Joe Biden and their host.

"It’s taken New York’s highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior," Romney quipped.

"This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently," President Obama said. "Some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate."


Arriving shortly before 8:00 PM, President Obama greeted Romney like an old friend as he entered the ballroom, shaking his challenger's hand and twice patting him on the shoulder.  They were seated on either side of the Cardinal on the dais that served as the head table in the glittering ballroom, sharing it with industrial kings and philanthropic benefactors, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).  (Above: The President during his remarks)

Guests included Henry Kissinger, Ed Koch, Roger Ailes, Cyrus Vance, Katie Couric, Mort Zuckerman, and Chris Matthews.

Tickets to the dinner started at $2,500, and the proceeds of more than $5 million will go to thirteen charity organizations serving children and families in the Archdiocese of New York.  A top-tier event on the upper crust social calendar since 1946, the dinner attracts global luminaries as keynote speakers.  It has been a required stop on the campaign trail since 1960 when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon shared the podium.  President Obama attended in 2008 with GOP challenger Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Romney took the podium first, and opened by joking about his vast personal wealth.

"A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes--blue jeans in the morning, perhaps, suits for a lunch fundraiser, sport coat for dinner--but it’s nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house,” he said.

Taking aim at President Obama, he continued with the wealthy theme:  "As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everybody in white tie and finery you have to wonder what he’s thinking: 'So little time, so much to redistribute.'"

Romney added that he and Mr. Obama are both "very lucky to have one person who’s always in our corner, someone who we can lean on and someone who is a comforting presence without whom we wouldn’t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife, Ann; he has Bill Clinton."

Mrs. Romney joined her husband at the dinner; First Lady Michelle Obama, who campaigned in New York this week, was not at the dinner.

Referring to his own comment in the first debate about letting Big Bird be de-funded, Romney delivered this zinger: "In the spirit of Sesame Street, the president’s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter ‘O’ and the number 16 trillion."

The Obama campaign, against a backdrop of protest from the creators of Sesame Street, has made much of the Big Bird meme, issuing a video and e-cards blasting Romney.

The crowd was still cheering and clapping for President Obama as he took the podium and opened with a joke about the Republican National Convention.

"Everyone, please take your seats," he said.  "Otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them."

The President twice made jokes about the first presidential debate, which fell on his twentieth wedding anniversary on October 3rd.

“There are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift,” President Obama said.  "Gentlemen, take note."

He also offered a preview of the third debate, which will be next Monday in Boca Raton, Florida.

"Monday’s debate is a little bit different because the topic is foreign policy," President Obama said. "Spoiler alert: We got Bin Laden."

The President made good use of Romney’s overseas trip this summer, when he angered the British by questioning London’s readiness to host the Summer Olympics.

"Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate," President Obama said. "After my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. And I have to say, I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem."

The President looked over to make eye contact with Romney after that, both laughed.  He had more on the upcoming debate: "We won’t spend a whole lot of time interrupting each other.  We will also interrupt the moderator, just to mix things up."

At the second debate, Romney accused the President of being far wealthier than he lets on, noting that he, too, has off shore accounts and a large retirement fund.  President Obama took a pot shot at Romney's wealth:  "Earlier today I went shopping at some stores in Midtown," he said.

"I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."

Both candidates piled on Biden.

"I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he'll laugh at anything," Romney cracked.

"I've heard some people say, 'Barack, you're not as young as you used to be.  Where's that golden smile?  Where's that pep in your step?'  And I say, 'Settle down, Joe, I'm trying to run a Cabinet meeting,"' President Obama said.  "He does smile when he says it, though."

President Obama also took a swipe at Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, whose claim to have run a marathon in less than three hours was later proven to be false.

"Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever," President Obama said, "But Paul Ryan assured me that we’ve only been running for 2 hours and 50-something minutes."

There was one food related joke:  President Obama took aim at Mayor Bloomberg's city-wide mandate limiting the serving size for soda and sugary beverages.

"Now, win or lose, this is my last political campaign," President Obama said.  "So I'm trying to drink it all in.  Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg will only let me have 16 ounces of it."


The two were introduced by Alfred E. Smith IV, the emcee for the evening and the great-grandson of the man the event is named for, a four-term New York governor who was the first Catholic to run for president.  (Above: The President with the Cardinal and Romney before the dinner; Smith is at far right)

Smith had jokes of his own, and quickly referenced Romney's comment at the debate that he had plenty of women in his administration as Massachusetts Governor, saying that he had been given "binders full of women" by aides to select his candidates.

"It’s good to see who’s getting out of those binders," Smith told the appreciative women dinner guests.

He took a shot at the President, too: "We recognize that you have some challenges this year. It’s never good when your opponent has produced more sons than you have jobs."

Smith also poked at Cardinal Dolan, who is overweight, joking that the two candidates were separated on the dais by a "vast expanse."

Dolan's Archdiocese of New York is one of more than 60 organizations, charities and educational institutions that have sued the Obama Administration over the Affordable Care Act mandate that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control.  Jewish, Evangelical, other religious leaders joined in pressing for a broad religious exemption, including for faith-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service groups.

Earlier on Thursday, President Obama taped The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and he also campaigned in New Hampshire.  His appearance on the show, his second since taking office and sixth overall, was airing as he departed New York, heading back to Washington, DC.

On Friday, the President will visit Virginia for a final campaign rally at George Mason University before departing for Camp David to prepare for the last presidential debate of his career.  He will remain in Maryland through the weekend.

The transcript of the President and Romney's remarks.

The C-SPAN video of the dinner:



Partial guest list...
Guests were seated in the ballroom on tiers, facing the stage where the President and Romney spoke.  Below, the bold-faced names in attendance.

The first tier of seating had 20 people, left to right looking at the stage from the audience:  John Macfarlane, Robert Wolf, Robert Greifeld, Mauro Romita, J. Leonard, Denis Kelleher, Mary Ann Tighe, Rob Speyer, Gerald Hassel, Lowell McAdam, John Castle, Howard Milstein, Bill Flaherty, Ken Langone, Steve Schwarzman, Jimmy Lee, Brian Moynihan, Tom Murphy, Kevin Burke, Fred Salerno.

The second tier had 20 people left to right: John Zuccotti, Peter Georgiopoulous, Bob Wright, Peter Johnson, Charles Schumer, Tom Joyce, Michael Bloomberg, Cardinal Egan, Gov. Cuomo, Nan Smith, Al Smith, President Obama, Cardinal Dolan, Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, Chris Quick, Tim Joyce, Steve Lessing, Peter Kiernan, Jim Gill.

The Third Tier was 18 people, left to right: Bishop Murphy, Peter Flanigan, James Tisch, Arthur Mahon, Mary Higgins Clark, Henry Kissinger, Jane O'Connell, Al Kelly, Katie Couric, James MacGilvray, Chris Matthews, Tom Moran, Roger Ailes, Maria Bartiromo, Bill Rudin, John Catsimatidis, Mort Zuckerman, Bishop DiMarzio

The Fourth Tier was 14 people left to right: David Dinkins, Gary LaBarbera, Mary Kay Henry, Jonathan Lippman, Milton Williams, Mario Cilento, Cyrus Vance, Howard Rubenstein, Ray Kelly
Thomas DiNapoli, Christine Quinn, Salvatore Cassano, Vincent Alvarez, Ed Koch.

*Pool photos by Getty; backstage photo tweeted by Romney's Body Man, @DGJackson; C-SPAN video.