Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

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Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Waldorf-Astoria Hotel,
New York City, New York
Founded 1945 (1945)
Organized by Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation
Official website

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual white tie fundraiser for Catholic charities supporting needy children, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on the third Thursday of October. It is organized by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in honor of former New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate; the dinner is hosted by the Archbishop of New York (currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan.)

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.[1] 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.[2]


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; and in 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Since 1945, only two presidents have not spoken at the dinner: Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.[3] 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.[4]

Since 1980, this custom has been affected by friction between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church over abortion.[5] During the 1980 dinner, Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter was booed.[5] In 1984, Ronald Reagan spoke, but his opponent, Walter Mondale, opted out, saying he needed time to prepare for an upcoming presidential debate.[6] Amy Sullivan suggests that Mondale's decision was motivated by "tensions between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party."[5]

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.[7] The organizers' explanation was that the candidates had been unable to commit to attending the dinner.[7] 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,"[7] but some speculated that the decision was due to Democratic nominee (and Roman Catholic) John Kerry's pro-choice stance on abortion.[8]

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."[9] The quote was used in Fahrenheit 9/11 and subsequently in one of John Kerry's 2004 campaign speeches.[10][11]

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


  1. ^ Wheaton, Sarah; Bosman, Julie (2008-10-14). "Both McCain and Obama to Speak at Al Smith Dinner". The New York Times. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Cooper, Michael; Wakin, Daniel J. (September 17, 2004). "Archdiocese Leaves Kerry and President Off Guest List". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Tapper, Jake (16 October 2008). "Obama and McCain Yuk it Up at Al Smith Dinner". ABC News. 
  5. ^ a b c Sullivan, Amy (2008-10-18). "How Catholics Are Judging Obama and the Democrats". Time. 
  6. ^ "Mondale Opts to Miss Alfred Smith Dinner". The New York Times. October 16, 1984. 
  7. ^ a b c Chan, Sewell (2007-10-18). "A Lower Profile for the Al Smith Dinner?". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Wheaton, Sarah; Bosman, Julie (2008-10-14). "Both McCain and Obama to Speak at Al Smith Dinner". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Cooper, Michael; Wakin, Daniel J. (September 17, 2004). "Archdiocese Leaves Kerry and President Off Guest List". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (October 3, 2004). "In Florida, Kerry Says 'American Dream Is on the Ballot'". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Review: 'Fahrenheit' a powerful, fiery film". CNN. 2004-06-25. 

External links[edit]