Biden Urges Americans to Heal Divisions as They Did Before

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  • Vice president, Guggenheim’s Minerd, Starbucks’s Schultz feted
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights event celebrates humanitarians

Vice President Joe Biden Photographer: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, feted in Manhattan Tuesday night for his lifetime of public service, urged Americans in the aftermath of a contentious presidential election to remember the example set by a candidate decades ago.

Vice President Joe Biden

Photographer: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

“If we ever needed the spirit of a single political leader at this moment in history, those characteristics are almost unique to Bobby Kennedy,” Biden told the crowd assembled at the New York Hilton Midtown for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Awards Dinner. He described Kennedy as “passionate” and “patient” and said simply, “He listened.”

Biden was honored for his support of human rights along with Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz and Guggenheim Partners Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd. The 74-year-old vice president and former Democratic senator from Delaware, who’ll leave office in January when Donald Trump is sworn in as president, said Americans can overcome what divides them.

He offered a reminder of the country’s ability to emerge from darker days, such as the year when assassins’ bullets claimed both Kennedy -- then a U.S. senator and presidential candidate -- and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“I tell people, 1968 was a really bad year and America didn’t break,” Biden said. “It’s bad now, but I’m hopeful.”

Social Justice

“There need not be a false choice that’s being debated now between social justice and economic opportunity,” Biden said.

Hope and Robert F. Smith with Scott Minerd and Kerry Kennedy

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The awards dinner raised funds to pursue social justice through litigation and advocacy, teach human rights in classrooms from preschool to law school, and promote corporate responsibility in investment strategies.

Minerd praised the vice president for “his love for people, and for minorities and immigrants.” The investor said in an interview that he’d cast a vote for Biden if he ever ran again for president, “even though I’m a Republican.” Biden on Monday didn’t rule out a possible run for president in 2020.

Minerd was recognized for funding a safehouse for people in Uganda who identify as lesbian and gay, as well as his support for Union Rescue Mission, a Los Angeles homeless shelter. Bob Diamond and Mike Milken appeared in a video tribute to him.

At the lectern to accept his award, Minerd quoted the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, and said each generation has been called “to pay the price for these values” and “expand upon the sacrifices of those who went before them. Now, however, we are faced with a growing tide of nationalism which is not built on a vision of extending and protecting human rights, but is focused on self-interest and fear.”

Robert F. Smith, chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, said in an interview the organization is looking to expand its work domestically in response to the “groundswell of intolerance and lack of empathy” in the U.S.

The next generation of Kennedys on the red carpet

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The Kennedy clan was out in full force, including Kennedy’s widow Ethel, 88, who handed the award, a bust of her late husband, to each honoree; daughter Kerry, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, who said the event “celebrates my father’s quest for a more just, peaceful world;” son Christopher, chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, who introduced Biden; and granddaughter (and daughter of Governor Andrew Cuomo) Michaela Kennedy Cuomo.

Also attending the event were comic Kevin Nealon as master of ceremonies; entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte; and actors Alec Baldwin, Danny DeVito and Lorraine Bracco.

Michael Bolton sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

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