What was the forecast for the night? “Rain,” said David Tepper in the cocktail hour of the Robin Hood Foundation’s annual benefit. In other words, what he and fellow board member David Puth predicted would be the biggest night yet for the poverty-fighting organization.
“And now I have to mingle,” said Tepper, who runs hedge fund Appaloosa Management.
Within hours, more than $101 million had been pledged Tuesday night -- a record -- at what Robin Hood called the largest single fundraiser in the country. Last year, Robin Hood spent $133 million working with about 200 nonprofits.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Jon Bon Jovi kicked off the program. The big number started to add up with the announcement of a $25 million anonymous gift to start a fund for education and technology projects. Soon came another $25 million pledge from Bill and Karen Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation to match donations.
“The people in the room were really receptive when they heard about Karen and Bill’s generosity,” David Saltzman, executive director of the foundation, said Wednesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “What’s great is tens of thousands of people are part of the Robin Hood community. Some people give a dollar. Some people get to give a million dollars.”
The event, the brainchild of Saltzman and Paul Tudor Jones, has grown into Wall Street’s biggest annual philanthropic gathering, drawing titans from investment firms, banks, fashion and the silver screen, and this year got even bigger with the addition of satellite parties for “next-generation” guests.
The event was held against the backdrop of a growing national conversation about income inequality, and just hours after President Barack Obama called on fund managers to accept higher tax rates to close that gap.
“I think everybody would be for a system that not only is fair but seems fair,” Saltzman said on Bloomberg TV. “Part of what’s going on today is that people don’t understand the tax system and many people feel the deck is stacked against them.”
Michael Che of Saturday Night Live later riffed about his tax bill to an audience of about 4,000 at the Jacob K. Javits Center: “I’ve never dialed 911. I put out all my own fires. I shouldn’t have to pay as much as someone who votes.”
Robin Hood, which has raised more than $2 billion since 1988, has a history of opening Wall Street wallets. Last year’s bash raised $60 million. The previous record, set in 2010, was $87.8 million. By comparison, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Ball collected upwards of $12.5 million last week, and the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner generated more than $26 million in December.
During the cocktail hour, big letters spelled out “Together.” Near the letter “R,” board member Larry Fink of BlackRock hung out with his son. Later he talked with Indra Nooyi, chief executive officer of PepsiCo.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met actor Jamie Hector of “Bosch” and “The Wire” as fellow Goldmanites including David Solomon and Gary Cohn gathered around. Morgan Freeman, Sting, Michael J. Fox and Mary Erdoes also were in the room.
Katie Couric, a new Robin Hood board member and the evening’s host, introduced two high school seniors: one attended a school built by Robin Hood, the other recalled a check his family got after his father died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He remembered waking up early, sharing a bowl of cereal and watching his dad put on long black socks before walking out of the kitchen for work: “I’d watch ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog.’ It goes on commercial. We change it to the news,” he said. “It was 9/11.”
Paul McCartney performed for two hours at the end of the night, everything from “Paperback Writer” to “Blackbird” to “Hey Jude.” That famous birthday song reached Ackman, standing right up front, a day after he turned 49.
Jones caught up with Saltzman as confetti fell. “We did it! The best ever!” Jones said.
It was Jones who’d made the request at the end of dinner for contributions, first on stage, then walking on the floor, passing by Oprah Winfrey.
“Why are we here?” Jones asked.
“Some of us are here because we want to see our friends, some are here because it’s great for business, and some of us are here because later on we want to see a Beatle,” he said. “But still all of us are here because it’s a joyful night, because we’re going to experience magic. That is, we’re going to come together, we’re going to achieve the highest, most noble aspirations of humanity.”