Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

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Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner
Date(s)Third Thursday of October
Location(s)Waldorf Astoria New York
Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Founded1945 (1945)
LeaderArchbishop of New York
Organized byAlfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, commonly known as the Al Smith Dinner, is an annual white tie dinner in New York City, United States, to raise funds for Catholic charities supporting children of various needs in the Archdiocese of New York.[1] Held at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on the third Thursday of October, it is hosted by the Archbishop of New York while organized by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in honor of Al Smith who grew up in poverty and later became the Governor of New York four times and the first Catholic nominated as the Democratic candidate for the 1928 United States presidential election.

Cardinal Francis Spellman founded and hosted the first dinner in 1945 after Smith's death the previous year. By 1960 the Al Smith dinner had become a "ritual of American politics", in the words of Theodore H. White. 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 Tony Blair,[3] Tom Brokaw, Bob Hope, Henry Kissinger, Clare Boothe Luce, and many other prominent civic, business, and church leaders.[4]


Since 1960, when John F. Kennedy (who would become the first Roman Catholic president) and Richard Nixon were speakers, it has been a stop for the two main presidential candidates during several U.S. election years.[5] In 1976, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford spoke; in 1980, Carter and Ronald Reagan; in 1988, George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis; in 2000, Al Gore[6] and George W. Bush;[7] in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain;[8] in 2012, Barack Obama[9] and Mitt Romney[10] in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump;[11] and in 2020, Trump and Joe Biden.[12] Candidates have traditionally given humorous speeches[13] poking fun at themselves and their opponents, making the event similar to a roast. The 2018 dinner raised $3.9 million.[14]

Since 1980, this custom has been affected by friction between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church over abortion.[15] During the 1980 dinner, Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter was booed.[15] In 1984, Ronald Reagan spoke, but his opponent, Walter Mondale, opted out, saying he needed time to prepare for an upcoming presidential debate.[16] Amy Sullivan suggests that Mondale's decision was motivated by "tensions between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party."[15]

President Barack Obama preparing for the 2012 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

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.[17] The organizers' explanation was that the candidates had been unable to commit to attending the dinner.[17] 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,"[17] but some speculated that the decision was due to Democratic nominee (and Roman Catholic) John Kerry's pro-choice stance on abortion.[2]

On October 20, 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke at the dinner which was hosted by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan who was seated between the two presidential candidates during the event.[11][18] During the dinner, Trump made numerous remarks about Hillary Clinton, including references to the hacking of the email server of the Democratic National Committee, her supposed corruption, and her back room dealings with Wall Street elites.[19][20][21] The 2016 dinner drew 10.3 million viewers and raised a record-breaking $6 million for Catholic charities.[22][23] The 2020 dinner occurred in a virtual format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, and the traditional roast-like nature was abandoned; still, it was attended by Joe Biden and Donald Trump; both men discussed Catholicism.[24]

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."[6][25] The quote was used in Fahrenheit 9/11 and subsequently in one of John Kerry's 2004 campaign speeches.[26][27]

The dinner was the subject of an episode of The West Wing titled "The Al Smith Dinner".[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation". Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Wheaton, Sarah; Bosman, Julie (October 14, 2008). "Both McCain and Obama to Speak at Al Smith Dinner". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Tony Blair (October 2007). Al Smith Dinner (WebM MPEG-4) (Digital video news package). Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation. duration 7:49. Retrieved October 24, 2016 – via YouTube. 7-minute excerpt from the second British Prime Minister to address the Al Smith Foundation dinner.
  4. ^ "The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner". Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  5. ^ "Alfred E. Smith Dinner Gag Writer on Clinton-Trump Roast: "The Rules Don't Apply"". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  6. ^ a b "A Pause For Humor: 2000 Al Smith Dinner Transcript". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  7. ^ "Al Smith Memorial Dinner". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  8. ^ John McCain; Barack Obama (2008). Al Smith Dinner 2008 (Full Video) (WebM MPEG-4) (Digital video news package). C-SPAN. duration 47:05. Retrieved October 24, 2016 – via YouTube.
  9. ^ Barack Obama (October 18, 2012). Raw Video: Watch President Obama's Al Smith dinner speech (WebM MPEG-4) (Digital video news package). CNN. duration 9:32. Retrieved October 24, 2016 – via YouTube. Mitt Romney and President Obama speak in New York.
  10. ^ Mitt Romney (October 18, 2012). Raw Video: See Mitt Romney's full Al Smith dinner speech (WebM MPEG-4) (Digital video news package). CNN. duration 10:10. Retrieved October 24, 2016 – via YouTube. Mitt Romney and President Obama speak in New York.
  11. ^ a b Hillary Clinton; Donald Trump (October 20, 2016). 2016 Al Smith Dinner (WebM MPEG-4) (Digital video news package). The New York Times. duration 49:44. Retrieved October 23, 2016 – via YouTube. 71st Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. Streamed live on 20 October 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump deliver remarks at the Al Smith charity dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.
  12. ^ Vella, Lauren (October 1, 2020). "Trump accuses Democrats of 'anti-Catholic bigotry' at annual Alfred E. Smith dinner". The Hill. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  13. ^ "Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner Compilation". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  14. ^ Tapper, Jake (October 16, 2008). "Obama and McCain Yuk it Up at Al Smith Dinner". ABC News. Archived from the original on October 21, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
  15. ^ a b c Sullivan, Amy (October 18, 2008). "How Catholics Are Judging Obama and the Democrats". Time. Archived from the original on October 19, 2008.
  16. ^ "Mondale Opts to Miss Alfred Smith Dinner". The New York Times. October 16, 1984.
  17. ^ a b c Chan, Sewell (October 18, 2007). "A Lower Profile for the Al Smith Dinner?". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Gloves come off at 71st annual Al Smith Dinner in New York". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on October 22, 2016. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  19. ^ "At Al Smith Dinner, Donald Trump Turns Friendly Roast Into 3-Alarm Fire". Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  20. ^ Flegenheimer, Matt; Parker, Ashley (October 20, 2016). "Donald Trump Heckled by New York Elite at Charity Dinner". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  21. ^ Nguyen, Tina. "Donald Trump Booed After Attacking Clinton at Catholic Charity Dinner". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  22. ^ Katz, A.J. (October 23, 2016). "10.3 Million Watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Al Smith Dinner". Adweek.
  23. ^ Goldman, Henry; Jacobs, Jennifer (October 21, 2016). "Trump's Jokes Strike a Sour Tone at New York's Al Smith Dinner". Forbes.
  24. ^ "After bitter debate, Trump and Biden speak during charity Al Smith Dinner". ABC7NY. Associated Press. October 1, 2020. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  25. ^ Cooper, Michael; Wakin, Daniel J. (September 17, 2004). "Archdiocese Leaves Kerry and President Off Guest List". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (October 3, 2004). "In Florida, Kerry Says 'American Dream Is on the Ballot'". The New York Times.
  27. ^ "Review: 'Fahrenheit' a powerful, fiery film". CNN. June 25, 2004.
  28. ^ 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]