Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. defense secretary, greeted the 6-foot-5 George Pataki last night with: “My, you’ve grown.”
“It’s my Hungarian roots,” said the former New York governor.
The two were guests of honor at the U.S. Institute of Peace for the 56’ at 56 gala hosted by the Hungarian Embassy.
The play on numbers represents the 56th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet regime.
Rumsfeld, a naval pilot stationed in Hungary at the time, recalled the “indelible impressions” the period made on him.
He was hardly taking a break from campaigning: “I want Romney to win so bad I can’t stand it,” Rumsfeld said, grinding his teeth.
Pataki grew up in a Hungarian-American community in upstate New York. He said his father cried when he saw the Soviets retain power despite the hard-fought campaign by the student freedom fighters.
Pataki led the U.S. delegation to Hungary to mark the 50th anniversary in 2006.
The 300 guests were seated at tables named after U.S. cities, with the exception of the Budapest table, where Rumsfeld and Pataki were joined by Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Janos Martonyi.
Hungarian Ambassador Gyorgy Szapary made introductions, including one between Rumsfeld and Susan Francia, a Hungarian American athlete who took the gold medal in women’s rowing in Beijing and London. She brought her medals along.
Martonyi compared mustaches with John Lipsky, former first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, now a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University.
At the Cleveland table were Austrian Ambassador Hans Peter Manz and Heidi Crebo-Rediker, the State Department’s chief economist. At Boston sat Skip Warner, a senior vice president at General Electric Co., one of the evening’s sponsors.
He is off to Hungary next month to facilitate sales of Hungarian industrial business through financing.
The meal was local roasted chicken, wild rice and Esterhazy torte with Hungarian wines, such as Matrai Irsai Oliver 2011.
Szapary surprised his guests with the announcement that the Hungarian government has pledged $1 million toward the construction of a Communism museum in Washington.
Other guests included Philip Reeker, former ambassador to Macedonia, now deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and former Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi, now the managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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