Working at the annual Al Smith Dinner is a little like being a guest of the fanciest and nicest family you’ll ever get to visit. The atmosphere is warm, the surroundings elegant, and the dress code over the top. Even the most devoted frump reveals an inner Carey Grant or Audrey Hepburn that is rarely on display. At the staff level, the evening invariably begins with a look of amazement at one’s colleagues suddenly appearing as if extras on the set of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig.
The next thing one notices is the tone of voice and an uptick in the art of language. A smiling and softer manner is the norm and the greeting that in the office might be only “Hey,” is now “Good Evening.”
To say the evening is an exercise in polite good manners is a bit of “fake news” considering the sometimes biting or even off-color humor from the podium. This year’s emcee, actress Patricia Heaton, riffed on the touching of one’s private parts which seemed a bit more suitable for an interview with Howard Stern than an evening with the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. Still, he laughed.
Regardless of political commentary or joking, everyone in attendance does not run for their safe spaces. There is a collective understanding that all is in jest and no real harm is intended.
Most important, despite any bad jokes, bad boos, as were directed at New York Mayor DiBlasio, or bad ideas such as the President’s late-night tweets that this year’s speaker Paul Ryan revealed he falsely denies reading, the evening is staged for the worthiest of reasons. In that respect, everyone is unified.
Founded in 1945 to honor the memory of Alfred E. Smith, the first Catholic nominee for President, the memorial dinner raises millions for New York’s children in need. Regardless of politics, position or personality, all in attendance join in the common purpose of doing good for others. This year, nearly $3.5 million was raised in a single evening to support charities for children throughout the city, a record amount in a non-presidential election year. The children served are of every race, color and creed. Since the members of the Smith Foundation Board of Directors pay the cost of the event itself, every dollar raised goes to kids.
Perhaps the lesson of the evening is that our country can feel a lot better about itself if its people can focus less on our separateness and more on our common capacity for decency and good.
Such values were in evidence following hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico this year. They were on full display at the Al Smith Dinner.
Stanton Communications was honored to work in support of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York to facilitate media coverage of this 72nd Annual Al Smith Dinner. It is a wonderful thing to come away from a client event feeling inspired, uplifted and determined to share our own good fortune with others.