Of the many campaigns and causes that stir the hearts and checkbooks of New York’s moneyed set, there is nothing quite so invigorating as a presidential race. The old rituals of money and power take on a sharper edge with the start of the fund-raising season, a time that verily thrums with the energy of impending victory (or possible defeat). It is a season of security details and $40,000-a-plate dinners, when the wealthy and well-connected head to palatial apartments on Park or Fifth for intimate evenings with the president.
Indeed, there are few more stunning social triumphs than having POTUS over for dinner. It is far less delightful, however, when it’s not your apartment where the president is supping, but your next-door neighbors’. In which case, you may not have an opportunity to rub shoulders with the commander in chief, but you’re guaranteed an intimate experience with the Secret Service. And those who share walls with the apartment in which the party is held are treated to a very intimate experience—they must submit their apartments to a full inspection (or so we’re told by those familiar with such fetes. The Secret Service does not comment on its policies or procedures).
“I had clients that lived next door to where a fund-raiser was being held, and the Secret Service basically went through their entire apartment,” said Michele Kleier, the president of brokerage Gumley Haft Kleier. “My clients found it very intrusive. Especially because they were of a different political persuasion.” Residents can refuse, of course, if they have no compunctions about scuttling their neighbors’ party plans at the last minute.
Courting the city’s elite has long paid off handsomely for politicians—a practice that largely plays out at the small, private parties held at the city’s premier residential addresses. New York is home to the top two fund-raising ZIP codes for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: Obama’s biggest donors are massed on the Upper West Side (ZIP code 10024), while Romney’s fans live right across the park in 10021, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The candidates, whenever they are able to fit such visits into their increasingly frenetic campaign schedules, are more than happy to lavish their attentions on deep-pocketed donors, especially those who can recruit their similarly well-off friends to the cause.
“It’s nice to be in someone’s home. It’s more intimate: you have the chance to have a discussion with the candidate,” said attorney Victor Kovner, a longtime democratic donor who hosted a $5,000-a-plate dinner for President Obama and 106 guests in March. When asked about his own role as host, Mr. Kovner was nonchalant, citing his home’s suitability for entertaining: he and his wife Sarah “happened to have” a two-story living room with a balcony in their apartment on West 67th Street.
Still, there is nothing quite like what one high-end real estate broker described derisively as “the glory of being photographed sitting in your living room with a presidential candidate.”
More than a decade after President Bill Clinton’s term ended, John Catsimatidis, the owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain and a power player in New York fund-raising, still describes the former president’s visits to his Fifth Avenue apartment with relish.
“You’re talking about closing off Fifth Avenue. It must have been an army of maybe 300 Secret Service people. The power of the presidency is the power of the presidency,” he recounted, turning briefly dreamy. “For a poor boy from the poor side of town, to have the president come to your home—it’s something special.”