How can we thank people who spend their lives protecting us while receiving little remuneration and acknowledgement? What can we say to those who lose family members and colleagues on a fairly regular basis and are maligned by the media and public on an equally regular basis? What award would be sufficient to say “hey thanks for saving thousands of lives from terrorist attacks and drug dealers” and for doing so without every being recognized or commended adequately? In a world where most of the money, awards and accolades are given to celebrities, who “pretend” to be action heroes it is about time we give praise to those who are meritorious. I had no idea what to expect this past Monday April 23rd, when I was invited by telephone to a dinner where titans Ronald Lauder and Henry Schleiff were being honored.
I attempted to research the evening but could find nothing online. It must be a humanitarian, entertainment or business event, I surmised. As I exited my cab at the Plaza Hotel I was greeted by five men with machine guns-when did the New York social scene become so dangerous. Maybe there was a rapper or head of state inside but security still seemed excessive. Now I was in the elevator with a burly man who seemed overly suspicious. “You heading to the dinner”? I inquired. “Yes,” he furtively answered. “What do you do for a living”? I asked-hoping to get an idea who the dinner was for. “I work for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency)”, he mumbled. I exited the elevator to The Plaza Ballroom where for a change there were no socialites, no models, no promoters, no New York regulars but instead about 500 brawny men who looked like they weighed a lot-and not because they ate too many cheese blintzes. Through the process of elimination I was now sure of two things: this was not an Orthodox Jewish convention, nor was it an LGBT awareness dinner.
Heading to the red carpet there were few familiar faces except for former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and former NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. By now I was convinced I was at the wrong event. I approached Tom Ridge who appeared thinner than usual, and asked him what tonight was honoring. “These are the Ridge Awards for the Federal Enforcement Homeland Security Foundation (FEHSF) which pays homage to those who protect our country”, he responded. “What organizations are here”? Well, he continued, we have the senior members of the FBI, US Marshals, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), DEA, Secret Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US Customs and Border Protections (CBP). I was still unconvinced I was at the correct dinner until I saw Ronald Lauder arrive.
Now I was free to ask Ridge his feelings about Trump with him responding, “Trump has always been a great supporter of law enforcement and that’s a powerful message from people who second guess law enforcement all the time.” On the subject of North Korea, Ridge said he admired the President’s response which was, “I won’t ignore them I will talk to them.” Ridge thought it was a highly intelligent and unconventional strategic move for the President to send then Head of CIA, Mike Pompeo, to talk to North Korea instead of the Secretary of State because Pompeo had access to all the intelligence and was therefore better able to converse with their Supreme Leader.
Ridge recalled Barbara Bush insisting he call her Barbara when he referred to her as Mrs. Bush. He recounted a favorite story of his where Barbara’s dog, Millie, made a “deposit” on the floor and when Tom went to pick it up she replied, “My dog, my mess I will get it.” Tom also said he had recently been feeling weak and after researching his symptoms on Google realized he was having a heart attack. Ridge was then pulled away by ten people and we were encouraged to head to the ballroom.
While celebrities who are ubiquitous at charity dinners in New York always claim to be supportive of law enforcement the only luminaries in attendance were: Carol Alt, Joe Piscopo and Stephen Baldwin. However, nobody cared tonight was all about the brave men and women who protect our country. While FEHSF was founded by Richard Kendall 12 years ago this was only their fifth annual dinner. The organization which has raised $2.5 million provides financial assistance to those in law enforcement who experience tragedy, and hardship within the first 24-48 hours when funds are most critical.
The evening appropriately began with the New York National Guard playing pipes and drums. Emcee and television journalist Chris Hansen introduced CEO Richard Kendall who joked this was one of the safest rooms to be in-I would argue it was one of the most dangerous since there were so many targets. Tom Ridge, also thanked the group and in my favorite part of the evening introduced heroine Terry Carothers, who lost her husband US Marshal, Pat Carothers, in the line of duty two years ago. Terry was an absolute knockout in an off-the-shoulder black dress. I still can feel tears welling up as I recount her tragic story. Terry, a mother of five, who was nearly sobbing, described the fateful day in 2016 when she was teaching her class in Georgia and was called out to the horrific news that her husband had been murdered. She thanked the organization for helping her with funeral expenses and said faith in Jesus kept her alive. Terry decried the media in general and CNN in particular “for spewing hate to make a buck.” Terry remarked that our only hope in preventing gun violence was belief in G-d and restoring prayer back in school and was taking her LSAT in order to become a lawyer and effectuate change. In a moment that will be etched in my memory forever, Terry did something incredibly vulnerable and brave.
She sang a song about Jesus that had given her hope in front of over 500 people that was epic. Her haunting voice could be heard loud and clear in the silent room-a fork wasn’t touched, a cup wasn’t moved-for three minutes the crowd was hers. At the conclusion, the audience gave her a rousing standing ovation but the sadness was almost too much to bear. These men and women who put themselves on the front lines of danger are mostly anonymous but tonight they were literally given a voice. Adding some needed levity was country singer Corbette Jackson who sang joyfully and danced with audience members as the crowd went wild. Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly then introduced mogul Ronald Lauder remarking that Lauder does not get enough credit for dedicating his life to helping people and for his 30-year support of the NYPD. He said Ronald was devoted to reinvigorating Jewish life all over the world as President of the World Jewish Congress and enjoyed planting trees and sharing his art collection with the citizens of New York at the Neue Galerie.
Ronald Lauder, who ran for mayor, jokingly thanked Ray Kelly for the one vote he received and criticized the media for being too busy attacking law enforcement instead of holding them up as role models. “The anti law enforcement attitude is wrong and I’m sick and tired of it,” exclaimed Lauder to enthusiastic applause. He praised
law enforcement for risking everything to ensure the safety of complete strangers. As the evening proceeded, Federal Agency Awards were handed to the leaders of ATF, CBP, DEA, FBI, ICE, US Marshals, and the US Secret Service who brought down drug dealers, members of MS-13, and helped save victims of terror attacks. A live auction was held where Dr. Ruth auctioned off a dinner with her which went for “$6,900” promising the crowd if they made the winning bid their sex lives would be fantastic.
Honoree Henry Schleiff, President of Discovery Communications and one of the most powerful figures in the entertainment industry, spoke about what a privilege it was for him to be honored amongst these heroes. He also said it was our duty to support law enforcement regardless of whether you were a Democrat, Liberal or Republican. Henry is known for revitalizing and strengthening brands and tonight the group he chose was law enforcement. The awards continued until 11PM and while much of the crowd had thinned there were many who stayed to the last moment including celebrity trainer David Kirsch who trains Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez and auctioned off a training session and diet consultation for $2,500-this group was in pretty good shape. Moreover, his friend media giant and Vice Chairman of Penske Media Corporation, Gerry Byrne, who is one of the busiest men around, was glued to his chair the entire evening-respectfully paying homage to the deserved group. Afterwards, I had the privilege of a lifetime in escorting 10 agents to the after party at LAVO-most likely the only opportunity I will have to lead a group of supermen to a destination that was “unknown” to them.