UN’s Nikki Haley Amuses, Affirms at Al Smith Dinner

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Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, shared in her keynote address at the 73rd annual Alfred Emanuel Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner that she so wanted the gathering to be a success that during a recent breakfast with Cardinal Dolan she asked if there was anything she could do to boost attendance.

Before the former governor of South Carolina could continue on to the next line of her joke, the Al Smith dinner attendees laughed, perhaps anticipating that she was about to humorously claim that the cardinal had replied at that breakfast, “‘Why don’t you resign as U.N. ambassador?’

“You didn’t tell me you were kidding,” Ms. Haley then added in jest to the cardinal, who at the dinner was seated on the dais alongside her. The joke at the Oct. 18 dinner was a reference to the announcement nine days earlier by President Donald Trump that Ms. Haley, a Republican, had resigned as ambassador and would leave that position by year’s end.

Ms. Haley, in her keynote, also joked that the president had called her the morning of the Al Smith dinner, which is known for its bipartisan banter, and gave her some good advice. “He said if I get stuck for laughs, just brag about his accomplishments. It really killed at the U.N.”

The daughter of immigrant parents from India, Ms. Haley said, “people always wonder if I felt different or isolated as an Indian-American growing up in rural South Carolina. Actually, there was a benefit. It totally prepared me for being a Republican in New York.”

Nine decades after New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith ran as the first Catholic presidential candidate for a major party and a century after Smith was elected New York state’s first Catholic governor, the Democrat and four-term governor was remembered at the dinner by 700 guests at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan.

The $3.9 million raised through this year’s dinner was record-breaking, as the highest for a non-presidential election year and the third highest ever. The foundation supports charities and educational institutions devoted to serving the children of New York who are most in need.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan was the master of ceremonies. “Unlike many Catholics in America that were raised as Catholics, I am still Catholic,” he said. “I still go to church every Sunday. Mainly because I’m afraid to tell my wife I don’t want to go. I’m Catholic, but my wife is very Catholic.” Gaffigan and his wife Jeannie and their five children belong to the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan. Gaffigan, the youngest of six children, and Mrs. Gaffigan, the oldest of nine, “have recreated the chaos of our childhoods,” Gaffigan mused of their children, ages 14, 12, 9, 7 and 6. “I should probably learn their names,” he added in jest.

Acknowledging Smith’s presidential run in 1928, “that was a tough year to be a Catholic in America,” Gaffigan said, adding that 2018 has also been “a tough year to be a Catholic in America.”

The Church’s clergy abuse scandal was also referenced during the dinner by Ms. Haley, who also affirmed the Church.

Ms. Haley said in the last two years she has been to “some very dark places where human suffering is on the level that’s hard for most Americans to imagine.” Such as the border between Colombia and Venezuela, “where people walk three hours each way in the blazing sun to get the only meal that they will have that day. Who’s giving them that meal? The Catholic Church.

“I’ve been to refugee camps in Central Africa where young boys are kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers, and young girls are raped as a matter of routine. Who was in the forefront of changing this culture of corruption and violence? The Catholic Church.

“Just about everywhere I’ve been, on humanitarian missions, I’ve come across the Church doing incredible work that lifts up millions of desperate people.”

Cardinal Dolan, delivering the invocation, prayed, “Yes, we celebrate your Church at her best this evening in her charity and unity, but might I ask your mercy on a Church that we have also blushed at over her being at her worst in the tragic way some of her leaders have wounded the vulnerable.”

The dinner honors a cause that surpasses the political rhetoric of the day and exemplifies the vision of Smith, who was known as “The Happy Warrior.”

The 2018 Happy Warrior award recipient was Lowell C. McAdam, chairman and former CEO of Verizon Communications. The award was presented by Mary Callahan Erdoes, vice chair of the Al Smith Foundation and CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset and Wealth Management.

McAdam said the award was “a real honor” and that he accepted it on behalf of his Verizon colleagues past and present.

“It’s been a great pleasure for my colleagues and me to work with the Archdiocese of New York to support educational causes right here in the city,” he said. “And I expect as I hand over the leadership of this great company, that collaboration will not only continue but deepen.”

Among the numerous other dignitaries, politicians and prominent civic, business and religious leaders assembled on the dais were former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Mayor Bill de Blasio; NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill; FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro; Sen. Chuck Schumer; former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and David Dinkins, and former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Seated near the dais in the Grand Ballroom was Cindy McCain, widow of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential nominee who died in August.

Cardinal Dolan, chair of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation and host of the evening, also delivered opening remarks.

The cardinal commended the New York community gathered to celebrate Smith’s faith, his love of God and country, “and his passion for vulnerable moms and their kids, and to keep his charism of charity, civility and solicitude to the poor ever vibrant.”

It is believed Smith’s religion played a role against him in his historic bid for the presidency. In the invocation, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged Smith’s resilience in that regard, “for his magnanimity in the brutal face of hatred, for his happy devotion to God and family, Church and country.”

Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio delivered the benediction.

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