October 3, 2011 at 9:45 am EST | by Peter Rosenstein
My weekend with President Obama

On Friday night I attended a fundraising dinner for the president at my good friend Dr. Jim D’Orta’s home in Georgetown. Jim, an emergency room physician by training and a successful businessman who founded Consumer Health Services, Inc., lives in the house formerly owned by Pamela and Averill Harriman.

The house has seen many grand parties and fundraisers and hosted many presidents in its past. It was the house from which Pamela Harriman ran what was colloquially called ‘Pam PAC’ in the 1980s when the Democrats were out of office and out of power. It was the place where Bill Clinton first met many of those who would later support him in his race for the White House in 1992. He rewarded Harriman with the position of ambassador to France. She later died in Paris of a stroke while swimming in the Ritz Hotel pool. Harriman is known as the premier courtesan of the 20th century. An amazing woman who I first had the pleasure of meeting  when she and her last husband, former governor of New York Averill Harriman, co-chaired a fundraising roast for Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) to retire the debt from her losing 1976 Senate race. The roast was held at Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center.

Official co-host for the evening was Jim’s cousin Barbara Broccoli, producer of the James Bond movies. The attendees were a mix of people from the theater community, business community, and were a mix of gay and straight. There were actually two events in one. There was a reception upstairs for those contributing $10,000 and a reception and dinner for 50 at tables of 10 downstairs where guests were asked to contribute $35,800 a couple. Each guest got the opportunity to have a picture taken with the president. The president spent time with the dinner guests and was both gracious and eloquent. He talked of what he has accomplished in the first three years and what he hopes to do in the next five. The president spoke for about 15 minutes and then there was an easy conversation with topics ranging from finance, bringing our troops home, to healthcare and campaign strategy.

The president quoted Mario Cuomo, “You campaign in poetry but govern in prose” as he talked about the difference between campaigning and the more difficult role of governing a nation with two wars and a financial crisis. The partisan crowd was easy to charm and the president did that as he spoke about the need for Democrats to join in this crucial election, which he believes is a fight for the future of America.

Guests at the dinner included Broadway producer Bill Haber and his wife Carol, asset manager Jim Roumell, tech CEO and politico Rick Stamberger, and HRC activists Barry Karas, Dana Perlman and Terry Bean. Guests were treated to entertainment before and after dinner from the incredibly talented Liz Calloway who sang the best version of the song ‘Memory’ that I have ever heard. Liz sang this for years on Broadway in “Cats.” The dinner was catered by Café Milano with an impressive chocolate dessert with the presidential seal in white chocolate. It definitely was an evening all attendees will long remember.

Then after a morning at the gym with my trainer to recuperate, Saturday evening I headed out to the HRC National Dinner where Obama spoke. What an event that was. Whereas the fundraiser at Jim’s was intimate, the HRC dinner was anything but. It was a sold out event with more than 3,000 attendees in part of the exhibit hall at the Washington Convention Center. Along with President Obama, who keynoted the event, political attendees included Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who we all hope will be the first openly gay U.S. senator. Now we all know she won’t be the first gay senator but she will be the first with the guts to say to her constituents, “I am who I am” and I can represent you better than anyone else. Tammy is a great person and a great congresswoman and I believe the people of Wisconsin will realize that and elect her. Seen in the crowd were D.C. Mayor Vince Gray, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and gay D.C. Council member David Catania. Also there was former second lady Tipper Gore.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D-R-now I-NY) received his Ally Award from Sarah Jessica Parker. Cyndi Lauper was there and I always feel old when some friends only know her from her True Colors Tour; I went to her concerts when “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” came out.

Cute new talent Greyson Chance sang and played the piano. He is the kid Ellen DeGeneres first heard sing on YouTube, had on her show, and signed to her record label ‘eleveneleven.’ Ellen’s mom Betty DeGeneres was there. Then there was Jesse Tyler Ferguson (a repeat from last year but without his partner in crime, I mean TV husband) and English singer Mika (real name Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr.) who did the after party. When you are as hot as he is who really cares what your name is. I am sure that someone figured his presence would be a nice going away treat for Joe Solmonese and his husband Jed.

I wandered around the silent auction and everyone who is anyone in the LGBT community was there. At least we all tend to think we are everyone that is anyone. Thank goodness there are literally millions of LGBT people, friends and allies out there supporting the movement to equality.

I saw John Berry from OPM and many of his staff. I once went to his office and on every floor the elevator stopped there was another LGBT staffer. We have really taken over that agency. I saw Bill Moran and his other half Rob Shumowsky; newly engaged couple Phil Piga and Ted Miller; Dr. Tim Price who told me he is single and looking (come on guys he is a good looking doctor); David Briggs and John Benton; Rob Morris who told me his last lover cured him of lovers; Frank Kameny who was in a wheelchair with a big smile on his face because of the hot young man pushing the chair; Rehoboth Beach denizens Dennis Stout and David Studnicky; and businessman and politico Fred Hochberg.

There is always a festive mood at HRC dinners with everyone dressed to the nines. But when the president is there it makes it even more exciting. This is the second time in the past three dinners that he keynoted. Last time he told us he would repeal DADT and to keep his feet to the fire until he did. Some in the community were upset when Lt. Dan Choi and others in GetEqual chained themselves to the White House gate to actually do that. But the president did keep his promise. He was introduced this year by Joe Solmonese who gave a short and great speech. It was his last as president of HRC. He gave a shout-out to three special people who he worked with — Judy and Dennis Shepard and Eric Alva for their hard work and willingness to always do all it took to make progress for our community. I have said it before but I truly believe that in hindsight, even with all the flak he has taken, the Solmonese era will be seen as a very positive one for both HRC and the LGBT community.

Then the president took the podium and the audience stood and cheered before he even said a word. There were many expectations for this speech and some were clearly not going to be met. But I have rarely heard the president so strong and sincere and the audience clearly liked what they heard.

He began by saying, “I was in Los Angeles last week and held bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga. She was wearing 16-inch heels and was very intimidating.” It was a great line and there were many in the speech both humorous and serious. For parts of his speech the crowd was on its feet cheering even while he spoke. One felt the warmth and gratitude in the room for what he has accomplished for the LGBT community and you only need to compare his efforts and this speech to what the opposition has been saying in their zeal to turn back the clock on the gains of the LGBT community to understand the strong positive feelings for this president.

After a weekend both meeting and hearing the president I share that positive feeling and while I will continue to push him and use my voice to call for full civil and human rights for the LGBT community, I will at the same time do all I can to ensure that Barack Obama will have a second term in the White House.




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