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It seemed that just about every other person I accidentally bumped into at last night’s Roosevelt Gala at the Mellon Auditorium was a Senator or a Congressman. There were more Members of Congress per square foot at the VIP reception than anywhere else except on Capitol Hill. Senator Patrick Leahy is one of my favorite people in town and he was kind enough to introduce me around, to Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa and others, as though I were a member of his family. I had the great privilege to cover the Gala Dinner for the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. The Annual Dinner, Co-Chaired this year by the Honorable Tom Daschle and the Honorable Ben Barnes, culminates with the recognition of an individual (Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared the honor last year) that has dedicated their life to service – whether elected office, government service, or philanthropy. This year’s recipient of the FDR Distinguished Public Service Award was bestowed by Pelosi herself, upon philanthropist Bernard Rapaport, affectionately known as “B.” Born in Waco, Texas, during the height of the Great Depression, Rapaport amassed a fortune in business but never forgot his meager beginnings. Having tirelessly given away tens of millions of dollars to political and non-profit organizations, he exemplifies the ideals found within the most often cited FDR quote of the evening: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
I’d never seen so many people in such high positions revere, so unanimously, a man as humble and as graceful as Rapaport. Each time I took a photograph of him with someone else he would ask, in a childlike voice, “Now who’s the best looking person in that picture?” when I said, “You, of course,” he would erupt in laughter. This must have happened 8 or 9 times. A really nice man with an equally lovely wife, Audre. When the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t pass on congratulating the newly sworn-in Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken. I told him, “Now we finally have a real comedian in the Senate.” I think he thought it was funny, I couldn’t really tell. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was to give the award to B, along with Pelosi, cancelled at the last minute.
There was a short, but very well produced video by Award-winning filmmaker, Susan Koch, that provided insight into the Roosevelt Institute’s history and future. Rapaport’s son produced a Texas-sized video tribute to his father and former President Bill Clinton contributed a congratulatory video just prior to the arrival of the Speaker of the House. Other member of Congress in attendance included Senators Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Tom Harkin, Dick Durbin, Bernard Sanders, Congressmen Jim Moran, Charles Gonzalez, Lloyd Doggett, and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.
An interesting nod toward the future could be found in the selection of the centerpiece/artwork placed at each table. Comprised of two separate panels, glass and wood, that can be joined together or displayed apart, Digital Pixel Posse envisioned the work to illustrate the similarities between FDR and our current President. Centerpieces are usually designed to adorn a table, yet there was nothing extraneous about this limited edition work of art. It beautifully bridges the divide between the hardships and ideals of FDR’s presidency and those currently being faced by Barack Obama. With the announcement that the centerpieces could be taken home, there was a mad scramble to be the first to obtain one. By evening’s end, all had been snapped up.