Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barack And The City: President Obama Raises Millions At Sarah Jessica Parker's Dinner

No cameras allowed at two fundraisers for the President: Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep, Michael Kors, Aretha Franklin, Olivia Wilde, Alicia Keyes, Mariah Carey give star-studded support...Chef Michael White caters...
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday evening attended an intimate multi-million dollar fundraising dinner at the New York City home of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, actor Matthew Broderick. Fifty silk-pocketed supporters each paid $40,000 to attend the soiree, and they gathered around two long tables on the fourth floor of Parker's chic West Village brownstone. Votive candles and white roses accented the expensive art on the walls, pool reported; photographers were banned from the event. (Above: In this updated photo, the President and Mrs. Obama return to the White House from New York)

Aretha Franklin, clad in a white gown with sparkles at the neckline, was the first celebrity to arrive. Spotted at the head table seated with the President and First Lady were Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, designer Michael Kors (Mrs. Obama has worn his creations); Bravo personality and exec Andy Cohen, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the co-host, and actress Olivia Wilde.

"This is sort of our date night," the President, clad in a dark blue suit, told the crowd as he stood, mic in hand, close to the First Lady and made brief remarks to the guests.

Also on hand were Designer Georgina Chapman--wife of movie mogul/Obama bundler Harvey Weinstein, model Chanel Iman, and Solange Knowles, singer sis of Beyonce. New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty--who recently played the White House--entertained the guests.

Mrs. Obama wore a black silk dress with a wide belt and a bolero. Her hair was down, and she had an armload of gold bangles.

More than $2 million was raised just from the paying guests; an online fundraising contest for "A New York Night" in conjunction with the dinner also netted several million dollars, according to campaign officials. The single winner, Robin Hunt, a healthcare executive from Baltimore, Maryland, brought her mother, Elvita, as her guest; full details are here. (Above, the graphic logo created to promote the dinner)

Hunt also joined the President and Mrs. Obama at the second fundraiser of the night at the Plaza Hotel, where pop diva Mariah Carey debuted a specially penned song, Bring It On Home, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker and songstress Alicia Keyes also spoke. About 250 guests paid $10,000 each for that event, where Mrs. Obama introduced her husband.

President praises Wintour, Parker, and his wife...
Both Wintour and Parker are appointed members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and during his dinner remarks Mr. Obama hailed “Sarah Jessica” and “her whole crew” as “great friends” and a “great leader and champion on behalf of the arts.” He also gave a shout-out to Wintour, calling her “Anna,” and a “great friend” who is “working really hard here...and in Chicago as well.” Wintour earlier this week in the Windy City debuted fashion designs from a campaign contest, Runway to Win. A bundler for the campaign, Wintour was a guest at the President's most recent State Dinner, honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I recognize that most of you are here to see Michelle,” President Obama joked. “I always explain I rank fifth in the hierarchy in the White House. There’s Michelle, my mother-in-law, the two girls and Bo. So that actually makes it six. In terms of star wattage, people come to the White House and say, 'Where’s Michelle?'”

The President then repeated what has become a regular campaign theme, that of Mrs. Obama as Reluctant Politician's Wife.

“Some of you know that Michelle had some skepticism about a life in politics," he said. "I think that’s well known. And so the grace and the strength and the poise and the warmth that she has brought to an extraordinarily difficult task as first lady and still being the best mom couldn’t make me prouder. I’m very pleased she’s here. This is sort of our date night.”

Parker, clad in a navy lace cocktail dress with three-quarter length sleeves, a jewel-studded necklace and a huge diamond ring, wasn't having a date night: Her husband, currently starring on Broadway in Nice Work if You Can Get It, "had a show to run off to,” the President said.

On the campaign: "You’re the tie-breaker, you’re the ultimate arbiter"...
As the President spoke, Parker’s 9-year-old son, James Wilkie--spiffy in a short-sleeve dress shirt and tie--watched from a few feet away. When the President mentioned that U.S. automaker GM is “back on top,” the child started clapping, impromptu.

“That’s worth applauding,” President Obama said, grinning, as the guests laughed and clapped. “Right on cue."

He spoke about the challenges of the general election, and GOP rival Mitt Romney.

“We’re going to have to fight for it because the American people are tired, they’ve gone through a very tough economy. They’re still having a tough time. And that’s why this election is going to be close,” President Obama said.

“The other side is going to spend $500 million with a very simple message, which is ‘You’re frustrated, you’re disappointed, and it’s the fault of the guy in the White House.’ And that’s an elegant message. It happens to be wrong. But it’s crisp. You can fit it on a bumper sticker."

“We’re going to have to work harder than we did in 2008,” he said.

The President underscored a point he had made earlier in the day during a campaign speech in Cleveland, casting the election as a stark choice between his economic vision Romney's. His supporters need to help make his case to the American people, he said.

“What we’re going to have to do is present that choice,” he said. “You’re the tie-breaker, you’re the ultimate arbiter.”

Parker, who campaigned for then-Senator Obama in 2008, introduced the President before he spoke.

“It is a great, a rare, a very special and I’m assuming a singular treat to welcome you into our home--our radiant, our extraordinary first lady,” she said, pointing to Mrs. Obama.

“You’ve done amazing important things these past four years…I very much look forward to the things you’re going to accomplish in the next four years,” she said of the First Lady.

Parker then turned to the President, standing a few feet away, saying the crowd was gathered “hopefully and with enormous enthusiasm” for the “beloved current and future president of the United States.”

Chef Michael White on dinner duty...
The dinner at Parker's home was catered by chef Michael White, owner of New York's Marea restaurant and other eateries. It was "chicken with a mustard sauce, diced tomatoes and a lot of relishes on the side of the plate," Aretha Franklin told as she left the party after just twenty minutes. Perhaps Franklin missed the main course: Olivia Young, the chief publicist for the chef, Tweeted a photo of White working in Parker's kitchen, writing "I'm eating Marea steak in Sarah Jessica Parker's kitchen wearing no shoes. Oh and Obama is upstairs."

Tonight's fundraisers were numbers 162 and 163 for the President since he entered office. Proceeds from both events will go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties. Billed by Obama for America as "A New York Night with The President, First Lady, and Sarah Jessica Parker," the donation contest opened for entries on May 18 and closed on June 4th. The push included Parker filming a 30-second TV spot for the dinner that aired three times during the 2012 MTV Movie Awards on June 3rd. Wintour sent her own e-mail and filmed a video, warning the winner not to be late. Mrs. Obama wooed donors via e-mail, too.

Criticism: "Obama's Secret Hollywood Night"...
Police barricades filled Parker's neighborhood, and two NYC sanitation trucks blocked the street to keep throngs of excited onlookers away. The President was already being criticized for mingling with stars before he was done with the second event of the evening, with CNN running the headline "Obama's Secret Hollywood Night," thanks to the no-camera policy at the dinner. Earlier in the day, Drudge Report featured photos of Wintour and Parker and Mrs. Obama above its banner, with the headline "Checks and the City."

The link was to a snarky ABC story that imagined what was going on inside the closed-to-press dinner, with items such as "For $5,000, you'll share a table with Will Smith. For $50, Joe Biden will watch you eat and tell you it's a "big f***king meal," and "For $15,000: You might get a flattering profile in Vogue — though it'll cost another $15,000 for that profile to remain online once the editors kill the link."

That must have been a big disappointment for the White House, because it gave the two of the biggest exclusives of the spring to ABC. Good Morning America's Robin Roberts got the interview when President Obama revealed he supports same-sex marriage, and she also interviewed Mrs. Obama on the day her new book was released.

On Friday, President Obama will have lunch in Washington, DC with the winners of the 'Dinner with Barack IV' contest. The next round of contest winners, for 'Dinner with Barack V,' will be flown to join the President on the campaign trail.

Update: The President and Mrs. Obama departed New York at 12:25 AM, and were back at the White House by 1:30 AM.

*The transcript of the President's remarks at Parker's dinner.

*Top photo by AP/pool; second by Olivia Young