Some thoughts on last night’s Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria…
* The loudest applause of the evening, to my ears, went to 1. Mike Bloomberg and 2. Hillary Clinton.
* The introductions of the presidential candidates caused a lot of confusion. First, McCain was introduced. He entered and approached his seat on the dais. Then Obama was introduced. But no Obama. Then came Cardinal Egan, who moved between McCain and Obama’s empty seat. Then — a minute or so later — Obama popped out and was re-introduced. I heard more than few jokes that he insisted on coming out last.
* Alfred E. Smith IV is a genuinely funny guy. I don’t know who writes his material. But his gravelly delivery is really good. I bet he could MC the Oscars. One of his first lines: “I’m Al Smith and I approve this dinner.”
* What can you say about Renee Flemming singing Ave Maria? She was standing in the middle of the second row of a four-tier dais and every famous dignitary was turned directly toward her. She could have kept singing for another hour and no one would have moved. Even the media section was still.
* I thought that McCain and Obama were terrific. Hysterical at points.
McCain opened up with some great material about our new folk hero Joe the Plumber: “… Joe the Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.”
Obama’s best lines were making fun of himself: “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth.” That’s the Superman story, by the way.
* Maybe it’s me, but it was great to hear the candidates compliment one another as they finished their routines.
* Both candidates made touching remarks about the late Tim Russert, whose wife and son were in the audience.
* McCain made several jokes about the media’s infatuation with Obama. When Obama got the chance, he asked: “Is Fox News included in this media?” Rupert Murdoch, who was sitting in the middle of the first row of the dais, turned around to face Obama and laughed.
* At one point, McCain mentioned that he was pro-life. Cardinal Egan, it appeared to me, was the first person in the ballroom to applause — with everything he had. The crowd than joined in. Obama did not applause, no doubt hoping for the moment to pass quickly.
* Egan had a good line at the end of the evening, advising the winner of the race to come see him at the end of a possible second term — if he’s interested in a third: “I have a friend here in New York who is an expert at arranging that kind of thing.”
Yes, Bloomberg laughed.
* For $1,500 a plate, attendees got salmon.
* The Smith Foundation raised $4 million to serve the needy.
* When I got home, I watched McCain on Letterman. Boy, did Letterman grill him.Â McCain must have been happy to get out of there and head for the Waldorf.
* There are few reds as red as a cardinal’s vestments in the middle of a black tuxedoed dais…