For at least one night, presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are expected to put aside the vitriolic attacks that have defined this election season in exchange for more light-hearted jabs.
On Thursday, a day after the third and final presidential debate, Clinton and Trump will speak at the 71st annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner — a charity gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with a longstanding tradition of hosting the major party presidential candidates for a night of political roasting.
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At the dinner, named after the state’s 42nd governor and the first Catholic U.S. presidential candidate, both rivals “will deliver the evening’s keynote speeches in the spirit of collegiality and good-humor that has become a hallmark of the gala,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, which helps coordinate the event.
However, in an election year marked by bitter, and often personal lines of attack, some political observers and some of the luminaries attending the $3,000-per-person event, have questioned whether the event will stray from its good-natured history.
“I don’t think it’s ever been this serious, where both candidates are seriously combatting each other before the event,” said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristides supermarket chain, who has attended the gala numerous times in the past 30 years.
Catsimatidis, who will attend the event this year, said he expected both campaigns to come up with the “wisest” cracks they can, while still remaining “civil” at the event attended by Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
Suffolk Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle, a Trump campaign surrogate, said while the former reality TV star is comfortable with delivering zingers off-the-cuff, he’s not sure “how Mr. Trump is going to approach this event,” as the GOP nominee continues to fight back against a string of sexual harrassment allegations that Trump has called “fabrications” put forward by the Clinton campaign and the media.
“While it is a charity dinner, the fact of the matter is that when you’re dealing with something as serious as the American presidency . . . it’s no laughing matter,” LaValle said.
Nassau Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs, a longtime Clinton supporter who serves on her campaign’s national finance committee, said he believed the former secretary of state “will be in good humor.”
“I’m sure she will conduct herself in the spirit of the dinner and its tradition,” Jacobs said. “She’s got a very good sense of humor. She’s quick, and she enjoys a good laugh.”
The gala, which costs $3,000 to $15,000 per person to attend, is expected to raise $5 million for Catholic charities aiding children, according to archdiocese officials.