Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

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"The Al Smith Dinner" redirects here. For the episode of The West Wing, see The Al Smith Dinner (The West Wing).
Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Waldorf Astoria New York,
New York City, New York, U.S.
Founded 1945 (1945)
Organized by Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, commonly known as the Al Smith Dinner, is an annual white tie fundraiser in the United States for Catholic charities supporting "the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color."[1] Held at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on the third Thursday of October, it is organized by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in honor of Al Smith, the former New York Governor and the first Catholic U.S. presidential candidate. The dinner is hosted by the Archbishop of New York.

Alfred E. Smith in 1928.

The first dinner was in 1945, the year after Al Smith's death. It is generally the last event at which the two U.S. presidential candidates share a stage before the election.[2] Apart from presidential candidates, keynote speakers have included Clare Boothe Luce, Bob Hope, Henry Kissinger, Tom Brokaw, Tony Blair, and many other prominent figures in government, business, the media, and entertainment.[3]


Since 1960 (when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were speakers), it has been a stop for the two main presidential candidates during several U.S. election years. In 1976, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter spoke; in 1980, Carter and Ronald Reagan; in 1988, Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush; in 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush; in 2008, John McCain and Barack Obama; in 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Since 1945, only two presidents have not spoken at the dinner: Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.[4] Candidates have traditionally given humorous speeches poking fun at themselves and their opponents, making the event similar to a roast. The 2008 dinner raised $3.9 million.[5]

Since 1980, this custom has been affected by friction between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church over abortion.[6] During the 1980 dinner, Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter was booed.[6] In 1984, Ronald Reagan spoke, but his opponent, Walter Mondale, opted out, saying he needed time to prepare for an upcoming presidential debate.[7] Amy Sullivan suggests that Mondale's decision was motivated by "tensions between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party."[6]

In 1996 and 2004, the Archdiocese of New York chose not to invite the presidential candidates. In 1996, this was reportedly because Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor was angry at Democratic nominee Bill Clinton for vetoing a bill outlawing some late-term abortions.[8] The organizers' explanation was that the candidates had been unable to commit to attending the dinner.[8] The vice-presidential candidates spoke instead. In 2004, Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling explained that the candidates were not invited because "the issues in this year's campaign could provoke division and disagreement,"[8] but some speculated that the decision was due to Democratic nominee (and Roman Catholic) John Kerry's pro-choice stance on abortion.[9]

In media[edit]

During the 2000 dinner, George W. Bush joked, "This is an impressive crowd. The haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base."[10] The quote was used in Fahrenheit 9/11 and subsequently in one of John Kerry's 2004 campaign speeches.[11][12]

The dinner was the subject of an episode of The West Wing titled "The Al Smith Dinner".[13]


  1. ^ "The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation". Retrieved 22 October 2016. 
  2. ^ Wheaton, Sarah; Bosman, Julie (October 14, 2008). "Both McCain and Obama to Speak at Al Smith Dinner". The New York Times. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Cooper, Michael; Wakin, Daniel J. (September 17, 2004). "Archdiocese Leaves Kerry and President Off Guest List". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Tapper, Jake (October 16, 2008). "Obama and McCain Yuk it Up at Al Smith Dinner". ABC News. 
  6. ^ a b c Sullivan, Amy (October 18, 2008). "How Catholics Are Judging Obama and the Democrats". Time. 
  7. ^ "Mondale Opts to Miss Alfred Smith Dinner". The New York Times. October 16, 1984. 
  8. ^ a b c Chan, Sewell (October 18, 2007). "A Lower Profile for the Al Smith Dinner?". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Wheaton, Sarah; Bosman, Julie (October 14, 2008). "Both McCain and Obama to Speak at Al Smith Dinner". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Cooper, Michael; Wakin, Daniel J. (September 17, 2004). "Archdiocese Leaves Kerry and President Off Guest List". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (October 3, 2004). "In Florida, Kerry Says 'American Dream Is on the Ballot'". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Review: 'Fahrenheit' a powerful, fiery film". CNN. June 25, 2004. 
  13. ^ Bagri, Neha Thirani (October 20, 2016). "The debates are done, but Clinton and Trump will meet again tonight at the Al Smith dinner". Quartz. Retrieved October 22, 2016. 

External links[edit]