Wall Streeters Ditch Democratic Debate for Nonprofit Campaigning

  • Tisch says his mood isn't bad, until he thinks about politics
  • Cyrus Capital's Freidheim thanks generous `good wolves'

As the Democratic candidates debated Wednesday night, board members and honorees of Lawyers for Children, Summer Search and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York gathered at fundraising events to press the flesh and give their take on national issues, too.

Lisa and Jonathan Pruzan

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/BLoomberg

“People talk about the wealth gap, it’s really the education gap, and around that, it’s really improving the national public school system," said Jonathan Pruzan, chief financial officer of Morgan Stanley and New York City board chairman of Summer Search. “If the next presidential administration could do that, it would be a great start.”

Summer Search guides low-income kids from sophomore year in high school through college graduation by offering summer experiences, like Outward Bound trips, and professional mentoring. The 26-year-old organization has a $20 million annual budget and works with students in several cities.

“Our challenge has been to introduce people to Summer Search. Once they find it they feel passionate about it like I do,” said Pruzan, who discovered the nonprofit about 10 years ago through Morgan Stanley. He said he was drawn in part by his fondness for his sleep-away camp paid for by his grandmother. The event raised more than $1.7 million.

At the Catholic Charities gala, Stephen Freidheim, chief investment officer and founder of Cyrus Capital Partners, accepting the Deus Caritas Est award on the stage of the Waldorf Astoria’s ballroom, told of what sounded like a Summer Search experience -- except it was his kids’ favorite bedtime story “about a wise knight who takes his son into the forest for an adventure to teach him about life.”

Stephen Freidheim, J. Tomilson Hill and Kevin Sullivan

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Apparently the plot includes some run-ins with wolves, because on the last day of the trip, in Freidheim’s telling, the wise knight asks his son which he will be: a good wolf or an evil wolf. The son replies, “The one that you feed."

Then Freidheim thanked “friends and family who supersized their feeding of their good wolf” to support him.

Blackstone Group Vice Chairman J. Tomilson Hill came to the lectern to receive his Deus Caritas Est award, and noted the gala had raised a record $2.6 million.

“If tonight is proof of anything, it’s that it’s easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan to fit in the backseat of a Fiat driving around New York,” Hill said. “I’m joking, Cardinal."

The organization dispenses more than $700 million annually, to protect children, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, support people with physical and mental disabilities, and provide assistance to immigrants and refugees.

Lawyers for Children held its first formal fundraising benefit at the Park Avenue Winter restaurant and raised more than $700,000 -- almost triple its original goal -- to create a reserve fund for operations when government payments are slow to come through. “We wanted a safety net," said Mari Hinojosa, LFC’s director of development.

John Shapiro and Karen Freedman

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

LFC provides foster children in New York with social workers and lawyers to keep them safe and help them thrive. “These are children we are all responsible for as a community," said Karen Freedman, LFC’s executive director and founder. “They have no families of their own. If we do right by these children, we will do right by all the children in this country.” Freedman said there are about 400,000 kids in foster care nationally.

“This whole area doesn’t get enough attention," said board member and honoree John Shapiro of Chieftain Capital Management. “I’ll bring it down to the current administration in New York. Look at how many paragraphs have been written about horses and carriages. And I like horses and carriages. If we could get 100th of that publicity -- the trouble is children in foster care are lost in the cracks.”

Another honoree had an idea: “Freedman for President!" Seth Gelblum, chair of the theater department at the law firm Loeb & Loeb, said.

LFC board member Patricia O’Donald of Kingdon Capital Management said when she first encountered the nonprofit she was “mesmerized by the idea, that the small things matter with these kids. They matter to me and you. It’s the day-to-day things that keep you feeling healthy and strong."

Supporting a nonprofit and being out on an unseasonably warm night was a powerful combination. “It’s beautiful out,’’ said Jim Tisch, chief executive officer of Loews Corp. “My mood isn’t bad, except when I think about politics and the world.”

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