Thursday, October 16, 2008

Once More, With Humor

Just a reminder that -- fresh off their tense final debate (fullvideo) -- the presidential contenders will make their last joint appearance of the campaign at tonight's Al Smith Dinner in New York.

Now in its 63rd year, the white-tie barb-fest at the Waldorf-Astoria benefits Catholic Charities of the Big Apple archdiocese. Hosted by Gotham's cardinal-archbishop -- who, in one of his last major appearances before retirement, will be flanked by John McCain and Barack Obama at the center of the traditional multi-tiered dais -- the event takes its name in tribute to the son of the Lower East Side tenements who rose to become the Empire State's governor, and in 1928 the first Catholic nominated for the presidency.

Beyond sold-out, this year's dinner has far exceeded its $2.5 million goal thanks to its joint keynoters:
Political heavyweights will pepper the dais: Sen. Hillary Clinton, Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Former Gov. George Pataki, former Mayor Ed Koch and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau will be there, too.

When [Al] Smith [IV] approached then-McCain adviser John Weaver about the Republican nominee appearing, "He said, 'We'll be there.' I said, 'I haven't given you the date yet.' He said, 'Doesn't matter.'"

McCain spoke at the Al Smith dinner in 2005.

Getting Team Obama to commit was slightly more work: "My line to them was, 'I know you're coming. You know you're coming.'"

McCain and Obama will each deliver 15-minute talks.

Appearing at the Al Smith dinner is a tradition for presidential candidates, with both major nominees typically attending in an election year.

"They say Jack Kennedy won the [1960] election at the Al Smith Dinner," Smith said in his office at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers, which features an array of Gov. Smith's photos and an Obama bobble-head doll.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry - a Catholic - was not invited, presumably for his pro-choice stance on abortion. As a result, President Bush also did not attend.

Alfred E. Smith, the nation's first Catholic presidential candidate back in 1928, died in 1944. The first dinner in his honor came a year later at the behest of then-Archbishop Francis Spellman.

Since then, it has become one of the premier fund-raisers for the Archdiocese of New York.

Last year, with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair headlining, the dinner raised $1.8 million for charity, Smith's great-grandson said.
From 9pm Eastern (0100GMT), the dinner and speeches will be shown/streamed live on C-Span and Sirius Satellite Radio's The Catholic Channel.

In other campaign news from the church beat... presumably for purposes of, er, emphasis, one US bishop has taken to employing the Democratic nominee's middle name.

PHOTO: Reuters