It was a typical evening at the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala as John Cardinal O’Connor stepped up to the dais to address a crowd of several thousand of the city’s most ambitious commercial real estate brokers and owners.
But in a ritual repeated more or less each year, the archbishop of the New York archdiocese’s 2.37 million Catholics and one of the Vatican’s most forceful spokesmen in the United States during the 1980s, was summarily ignored by a brokerage community far more interested in making deals than in hearing the Gospel.
Whether it was Mayor Bloomberg or Mayor Giuliani or a litany of governors going back to Nelson Rockefeller, guests of the annual gala have routinely been humbled at the New York Hilton’s Grand Ballroom, a cavernous space so stuffed each January with tuxedoed men and a smattering of elegantly dressed real estate women as to intimidate even the most confident of speakers. The collective chatter is fierce and formidable, and it swells to a deafening volume, with each broker hyping his or her year in deals with disingenuous aplomb.
“It almost doesn’t matter who the speakers are, because I’ve never seen—as much as I love my colleagues—a ruder group of people than at this banquet,” said Peter Hauspurg, chairman and chief executive of Eastern Consolidated and a 30-year veteran of the gala.
Affectionately referred to by seasoned vets as “The Liars Ball” for the rosy real estate projections offered up by attendees, this year’s affair, the 116th in the board’s storied existence, will boast more of the same, with brokers coughing up $1,000 per seat to schmooze, stir up new business and drink. Indeed, most confirm, they didn’t ante up for a $10,000 table simply to nosh on rubber chicken.
“It’s kind of the best and the worst of New York,” said Cherrie Nanninga, a chief operating officer at CBRE and a gala vet. “It’s the best in that it gets everybody together and it’s a real community. And it’s the worst in that … there’s no decorum whatsoever.”