A political pause for charity

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Election day is now less than two weeks away. Hard to believe it’s almost here. We have had three debates, but my favorite face-off was less about looking for votes, and more about going for laughs.

I’m talking about this year’s Al Smith dinner, which I was fortunate enough to cover. It’s always the most fun political event of the year, especially when the presidential candidates are part of the program.

President Barack Obama is sort of a veteran, having attended as a candidate with John McCain in 2008. Obama seemed to be relaxed and enjoying himself, even though he was sitting next to the man he has had a somewhat contentious political battle with, Timothy Cardinal Dolan. The two have fought over the funding of contraception. But the Cardinal and president showed no signs of strain, and bantered back and forth as if they were old allies.

Mitt Romney looked equally relaxed. He sat on the other side of the Cardinal. His wife Ann was in attendance too.

Romney quickly proved he was not going to be stiff on stage, joking that, “As President Obama surveys this banquet room with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking: ‘So little time, so much to redistribute.’”

His strongest zinger: “In the spirit of ‘Sesame Street,’ the president’s remarks are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion.”

The president proved to be just as funny: “Earlier today I went shopping in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown”

And then this: “Everybody please take your seats, or else Clint Eastwood will yell at them.”

This year Barack Obama became the first sitting president to attend since 1984, when Ronald Reagan appeared.

The first Al Smith dinner was held in 1945. Francis Cardinal Spellman initiated it after Smith’s death the previous year.

In 1947, Winston Churchill spoke, via transatlantic telephone. In 1960, presidential rivals Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon took the podium.

The 2012 dinner was attended by a few billionaires, many millionaires, power brokers and some just plain folks. It raised $5 million for charity.