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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Dinner with the President

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By James Lomuscio

UPDATE About 60 well heeled Democratic National Committee (DNC) supporters were waiting tonight when President Barack Obama’s motorcade arrived at 7:33 p.m. for dinner at movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s waterfront estate on Westport’s Beachside Avenue.

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President Obama addresses a Stamford fundraiser tonight. Cablevision News-12 photo

The supporters, most of them from New York City and Westchester, had been there since 6 p.m. and had their cars valet parked, according to a Westporter who attended. At the request of the Secret Service, they also had to relinquish their phones and cameras, placing them in baggies with their names on them to be returned after Obama left around 9 p.m.

In addition to Weinstein and his wife Georgina, the hosts included Westport’s Joanne Woodward, Clea Newman and her husband Kurt Sunderland, actress Anne Hathaway, “West Wing” producer Aaron Sorkin and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

“It was terrific,” said Westporter Ann Sheffer, a longtime arts advocate and DNC donor who attended with her husband Bill Scheffler. “To be three feet from the president of the United States is thrilling.”

Sheffer said she enjoyed not only being in the presence of Obama, but like minded individuals “who care about the issues.”

“These are people who have supported the Democratic party for years, and it’s fun when your political contribution gives you a wonderful experience as well,” she said.

The dinner, chicken prepared by Michel Nichan of the Dressing Room restaurant next to the Westport Country Playhouse, came with a hefty price tag, $35,800, $5,000 of which went to Obama’s campaign, the rest to the DNC.

A spokesman for Nichan later gave this description of the menu, according to the Obama Foodorama blog:

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President Obama’s limousines outside Harvey Weinstein’s Beachside Avenue home tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) White House pool photo

“[The menu] opened with an heirloom tomato salad over pickled cucumbers from the chef’s garden. The entree was heirloom chicken from Connecticut, served with a potato tart and local bok choy, skillet seared with miso and agave, with shaved sweet carrots. For dessert, guests enjoyed pan fried Angel Food Cake, served with local berries and honey.”

“The president was very warm and charming and so was Harvey,” said Sheffer.

“For years we’ve been supporting the Democratic party, and we were happy to be at this fundraiser. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to talk informally with these people, including the president.”

According to Sheffer, Obama spoke about election issues, the economy in particular, in front of the White House press corps (see text of Obama remarks below).

A White House press pool report of the event (see text below) said Obama praised the performance of Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“She’s spectacular,” Obama said of Hathaway. “I got a chance to see ‘Batman,’ and she was the best thing in it. That’s just my personal opinion.”

Obama also praised a few of the other celebrity guests including Sorkin, saying he “writes the way every Democrat in Washington wished they spoke.”

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With advance helicopters already on the ground, Marine One comes in for a landing late today at Westport’s Sherwood Island State Park. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Both Hathaway and Sorkin were listed as co-hosts of the event.

Obama received some praise himself from Weinstein.

”Leading with your heart is the utmost for this president,” the movie producer said. “Fighting for Planned Parenthood and protecting women’s rights, this president has fought the good fight,”  adding that, “You can make the case that he’s the Paul Newman of American presidents.

Sheffer said his talk was followed by a 45-minute question and answer period, which was off the record. She did say for the record what she discussed with Obama.

“I thanked him over the fact the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has selected an elementary school in Bridgeport, the Roosevelt School, for a pilot project designed to turn around the school through the arts,” she said. “Chuck Close is going to be an artist in residence there.

“The president said, ‘Yes, I think that is a fabulous program by this committee,’” she added. “He said he really believed in it. The reason I care so much is that I was on this committee under President Clinton.”

Sheffer and Scheffler are no strangers to presidential visits to Westport.

During the 1990s, President Clinton came to Westport for DNC fundraisers three times, and they attended each one. In fact, the couple hosted a fundraiser for Clinton at their home in December 1991, “before he was nominated, before the first primary.”

Prior to coming to Weinstein’s home this evening, Obama had attended a $500 admission cocktail party at the Marriott in Stamford. About 15 Westporters attended, according to Jim Ezzes, head of Westport’s Democratic Town Committee.

_____

Here is the text of the White House press pool report of the Weinstein event:

The motorcade departed Stamford at 7:13 p.m. and, after a short trip north on I-95, arrived at 7:33 p.m. at the Westport home of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and his wife, fashion designer Georgina Chapman. Along the way in Westport there were clusters of supporters along the road, waving, some holding signs such as “Westport loves Obama.”

Upon arriving at the estate, your pool was led up a long driveway, past the valet parking sign, past the broad lawn dotted with weeping willows and a badminton court, to the home. It’s a two-story, graceful, white home with black shutters, looking like a large, updated classic New England farmhouse (reportedly 8,900 square feet). Poolers eventually were led into a room to the right of the front door, where guests were seated at six tables.

The room was softly lit, with large rough wooden beams crisscrossing a high arched ceiling. On one end of the room there were bookshelves, the central focal points being two gold Oscar statues. Each table had a low centerpiece of what looked like pale pink Dahlias. Seated at the table closest to Mr. Obama was Anne Hathaway, wearing a silver dress with puffed sleeves gathered from the elbow to the shoulder, and a tight bodice. Also spotted in the audience were Aaron Sorkin, seated next to Anna Wintour, whose signature sunglasses rested on the table in front of her. Also present were Joanne Woodward and Jerry Springer. Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy was again present.

As we entered the room, Harvey Weinstein was speaking, introducing the president, who was standing beside him.” Leading with your heart is the utmost for this president. Fighting for Planned Parenthood and protecting women’s rights, this president has fought the good fight,” Mr. Weinstein said. “Recently in Aurora, we saw him put his arms around the people that needed him the most.” He added, “You can make the case that a he’s the Paul Newman of American presidents.”

Mr. Obama then took the microphone, praising some of his celebrity guests. He said of Ms. Hathaway, “She’s spectacular. I got a chance to see Batman, and she was the best thing in it. That’s just my personal opinion.” She beamed and laughed. Of Mr. Sorkin, the president said he “writes the way every Democrat in Washington wished they spoke.”

“We’ve spent three and a half years trying to make sure this country gets back on its feet,” Mr. Obama said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re not done. These gains are reversible. On a whole host of issues, you guys are the tiebreakers.”

____

Here is the text of President Obama’s remarks at the Weinstein dinner as provided by the White House:

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Well, it is wonderful to be here.  And there are just a couple of people I want to acknowledge.  First of all, obviously Harvey and Georgina have just been great friends and have done so much for us—not just in this election, but in the previous one.  A couple of other people who I want to mention—your Governor, Dan Malloy, is here, who’s doing outstanding work here in Connecticut.  (Applause.)

I want to thank Anne Hathaway for taking the time to host us.  She’s spectacular.  (Laughter.)  And I did get a chance to see Batman.  (Laughter.)  And she was the best thing in it.  (Laughter.)  That’s just my personal opinion.  Aaron Sorkin, who writes the way every Democrat in Washington wished they spoke.  (Laughter and applause.)  Aaron, thank you. 

And Joanne Woodward—what a treat this is.  Joanne and Paul were not only I think what was best about American film, but also just embodied the American spirit in so many ways.  And their love story and the way they took so many people under their wing and helped so many people I think made them something more important than just folks in film.  And for her to be here, what a great treat that is.  So thank you so much for taking the time.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

Now, you know, in these kind of intimate settings, I usually don’t make a long speech because what I want to do is have a conversation.  And so let me just say a few things at the top.

I’ll give you a sense of the kind of season we’re in.  Jim Messina, my campaign manager, tells this story.  He was at an event like this, and there was a young couple; they had a four-year-old boy, cute as can be.  And during this campaign event, there was a picture of me there.  And so the parents, very proudly, prompt the son, “Who is that?”  And he says, “That’s Barack Obama.”  And they say, “Well, and what does Barack Obama do?”  And he thinks for a second, and he says, “Barack Obama approves this message.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, that speaks to the state of affairs in politics today.  (Laughter.)  Unless you have—you don’t have a TV set or your cable is busted, you’re seeing an awful lot of stuff about politics.  And the reason I think there’s so much intensity is because we’ve got a choice that is as stark and as critical as any that we’ve seen in my lifetime—in some ways, more important than 2008.

In 2008, we came together—and it wasn’t just Democrats, it was independents and some Republicans—because we recognized that for over a decade the core idea at the heart of this country was at risk—the idea that if you work hard, that hard work is rewarded; that you can make it here if you try, regardless of what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is.

And for a decade, we had seen job growth slow and we had seen jobs moving overseas, and we had seen people working harder and harder but coming up with less because the costs were going up a lot faster than their wages and their incomes.  And this all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

We have spent three and a half years, a little over three and a half years now, trying to make sure that this country gets back on its feet.  And because of the extraordinary resilience of the American people, we have seen signs of recovery—4.5 million new jobs, half a million new manufacturing jobs, an auto industry that is reinvigorated.

But we didn’t work this hard in 2008 just to get back to where we were in 2007.  Our notion was that we needed to rebuild a country where the foundations for people who were willing to act responsibly were there for them either to feel security in the middle class or to climb into the middle class—and maybe do even better.  And that means making sure that we have an education system that works—which is why we’ve initiated more aggressive education reform across the country than any President in a very long time; and the reason that we put so much emphasis on making college more affordable for young people.

It meant health care, because in a country this wealthy, we shouldn’t go bankrupt when we get sick.  And the Affordable Care Act means that 30 million people will have health insurance, but it also means that people who already have health insurance have a little more security.

We did an event just before we came here, and there was a woman who clearly is doing fine and is well-insured, but she personally thanked me for the health care bill because she said, my husband just got cancer and we weren’t sure whether we were going to hit that $1 million limit on our insurance policy.  Well, that limit is no longer allowed under the Affordable Care Act—which means they may not lose their house because of an illness.  (Applause.)

It means making investments in science and research that are what made us an economic superpower.  It means having a tax code that’s fair so that we bring down our deficit not on the backs of folks who are struggling, but we ask those of us who are—who’ve been incredibly blessed by this country to do a little bit more, understanding that when folks in the middle and the bottom are doing well, everybody does well and the economy grows.

It means a foreign policy that recognizes the force of our example and our ideals and our capacity to engage with countries diplomatically is a complement to our incredible military power.  And it’s not a sign of weakness to say that we are going to reach out around the world and engage people.

So we’ve had a lot of work to do over the last three and a half years, and we’re not done.  We’re just—we’ve gotten on track, but these gains are reversible.  And you’ve got the other party and the other candidate who don’t just want to reverse the gains that we’ve made over the last three and a half years, but in many ways want to reverse gains we’ve made over the last 40, 0r 50, or 60 years.

When you look at their budget, and they say that they want to initiate a $5 trillion tax cut on top of the Bush tax cut, what that functionally means is that either you blow up the deficit by another $5 trillion—which they say is irresponsible—or you’re going to have to eliminate funding for education, for infrastructure, for basic science and research.  Medicare is going to be a voucher system, which means that seniors may end up paying thousands of dollars more for care that they were counting on.

When Mitt Romney says he wants to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood I think he means it.  When he says that Arizona is a model for how we should deal with immigration, I think that fundamentally misunderstands that we’re a nation of laws but also a nation of immigrants.

So on a whole host of issues, you’ve got very stark differences.  And the good news is that you guys are the tie-breaker.  You and the American people.  And when you walk into that ballot box—or don’t walk into the ballot box.  That’s the second time I’ve said this today.  (Laughter.)  When you walk into the voting booth—it’s illegal, I’m sure, to walk into a ballot box.  (Laughter.)  When you cast your ballot, you will have the opportunity to determine the course of this country’s direction not just tomorrow, or next year, or five years from now, but probably for decades to come.

And the great privilege of being President is you interact with people from every walk of life, from every corner of the country.  And what you discover is the faith that I brought into this office in the American people—their core decency and their values and their resilience and their fundamental fairness—they have never disappointed me.  And I’m confident that they won’t this time either, despite the fact that we’ve got all these negative ads raining down on our heads, and super PACs running around with folks writing $10 million checks—because when the American people focus and are paying attention, their instincts are sound and they know what makes this country great.

That’s what we’re going to be fighting for, and we’ve got 90 days to do it.  So I hope you guys are onboard.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
8:10 P.M. EDT

Posted 08/07 at 03:11 AM

Comments:     Comment Policy

I wonder if anyone else sees the less-than-noble side to all of this?  Enormous resources expended in terms of manpower, fuel, and, of course, the President’s time. Serious inconvenience to thousands of commuters as well as non-affluent Sherwood Island beachgoers.  All to give a handful of very rich people the thrill of dining with the President. And all with the result of funding a few more flights of TV commercials (mostly negative) that we would all be better off without.  I don’t care whether it is Democrats or Republicans doing this sort of thing, but isn’t it egregiously wasteful?  Wouldn’t the very rich be doing a real service to the world by swearing off these ego-fests and donating their money to charities that actually helped people?

Posted by Peter Blau on August 07, 2012 at 11:51 AM | #

I do!

Posted by Tom Leyden on August 07, 2012 at 02:15 PM | #

I do, too.  I think can think of a few charities, right here in CT that could use even some of that money.

Like you said, Peter, it doesn’t matter what party it is, it’s disgustingly wasteful.  If we don’t begin to stand up for this, now, exactly when do we start?

It’s b/c we’ve remained silent for so long that we the taxpayers are continuing to be taken advantage of by both parties. I’d prefer seeing my tax dollars not being tossed about, uselessly, both on town and state levels.  No, I’m not shutting up about this; it’s my money being spent and I’d be just as angry if Romney did it.

I demand that the Gov bill the WH for this debacle and yes, I’ve already called and emailed the Gov…860-566-4840. If you Google, the email pops up.

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on August 07, 2012 at 03:04 PM | #

May I suggest that even before asking that Westport and Connecticut be reimbursed, I would think the workers at Sherwood Island be given their days wages.  I would guess that most are minimum wage earners to begin with and the least able to lose the money.

Posted by Gini Otway on August 07, 2012 at 04:20 PM | #

I did mention that in the other posting, Gini.  Many of those workers depend on that money to feed their loved ones.  Totally agree w/ you!

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on August 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM | #

Me too

Posted by Tom Leyden on August 07, 2012 at 04:49 PM | #

I actually read an article (in a… *ahem* local print publication, not sure I can really share the name,) while waiting for my pizza tonight that said the Sherwood workers were paid for the day anyway.

Posted by Elizabeth Thibault on August 09, 2012 at 12:57 PM | #

Again, I will reiterate, I actually spoke w/ the individual who *runs* the Parks Dept. for the entire state who said otherwise and stated as I wrote.

How did I find him?  Didn’t; I emailed the Gov’s office and my email was shuffled off for some unknown reason…I suspect b/c the Gov could care less either about the wastefulness of taxpayer funds for the state or towns involved, etc., more towns involved than just Westport, you see.

As I said, it’s prudent to dig than just take the word of what you read.

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on August 09, 2012 at 01:56 PM | #

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