NEW YORK – The Clinton Global Initiative’s annual awards gala here Wednesday night was a vivid illustration of the eclectic universe that Clintonland has become.
On a gleaming stage adorned by a huge sculpture of the CGI logo, actor Ben Affleck, Vice President Biden, Queen Rania of Jordan and all three Clintons took turns celebrating global good deeds with the Clinton Global Citizen Awards.
The scene in the hotel ballroom was decidedly Clintonian, with the guests representing a cross-section of the family’s political, business, entertainment and non-profit relationships. As people were settling into their tables for dinner, for instance, Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, mingled with Eddie Trump (Donald’s brother), model Petra Nemkova and actress America Ferrera.
Elsewhere in the ballroom sat actor Sean Penn, designer Donna Karan and a host of big-name Clinton donors and advisers, including Melanne Verveer and Neera Tanden. Spotted near the head table was Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide and the wife of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner (no sign of Weiner himself) along with Jake Sullivan, a former Clinton State Department aide and now Biden’s national security adviser.
Here is a sampling of scenes from the evening:
Argo II: The Sequel
After Ben Affleck introduced Hillary Rodham Clinton, she heaped praise on his work as a humanitarian as well as a movie director.
Clinton said she enjoyed working with Affleck at the State Department as he was researching “Argo,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2012.
“I’m hoping that he films Argo 2,” Clinton joked. “I’m now available.”
‘Instead of sending guns, send books’
The evening’s first honoree was the emotional highlight. Queen Rania of Jordan presented a Clinton Global Citizen Award to Malala Yousafzai, 16, an education activist from Pakistan who last year was shot in the head by the Taliban while she was returning home from school.
Yousafzai delivered a deeply personal call for more investment in the education of girls around the world. “I’m one of those children who have seen terrorism, poverty, injustice and inequality,” Yousafzai said, noting the “barbarism of the 21st century.”
In Syria, she said, children are homeless and can’t go to school. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are targets of terrorism; in India, suffering from child labor; in many African countries, living with little food and clean water; in Nigeria, victims of sexual assault.
“Women are not even accepted as human beings,” she said. “They are treated with injustice and inequality. Women are denied, they are neglected, even in the developed countries where they are not given the opportunities to move forward and be what they want.”
Then, Yousafzai added, “Even in America, people are waiting for a woman president.” At that, the house camera panned to Hillary Clinton, projecting the smiling potential 2016 candidate on the big screens. The crowd burst into warm, knowing laughter.
‘I miss our Tuesday morning breakfasts’
Vice President Biden stepped onto the stage to honor New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a Clinton Global Citizen Award. But first, he had some warm words for a former colleague.
“Secretary Clinton,” Biden said, “we miss you. I miss our Tuesday morning breakfast.”
Then Biden showered praise on Bloomberg, calling him an “old buddy” and honoring his leadership in public health and the environment here. He said Bloomberg helped “create the future” in New York.
Biden also singled our Bloomberg’s role in the national gun control debate. He said the mayor has been the “most fierce and most effective advocate that we have on the matter of gun sanity.”
“I’ve never met a man who is as committed and passionate to one of the serious social issues of our day,” Biden said. “Mike knows that we only can bring sanity to this issue when we come together around this country and demand it.”
Acknowledging that Congress has stymied efforts at expanding background checks for gun buyers and other gun-control measures, Biden added of Bloomberg, “He’s not going away on this issue.”
‘People call you Mr. President; I call you Bill’
Bloomberg returned the compliment to Biden, saying of his role in the gun debate, “Joe’s not giving up the fight and certainly neither have I.”
Bloomberg also extended an invitation to Biden to help him out during his waning days as this city’s mayor.
“If the federal government shuts down next week, don’t worry, come back to New York and we’ll put you to work down in City Hall,” Bloomberg said to Biden.
But Bloomberg reserved most of his praise for the Clintons. He said the family has “redefined leadership in public service” and added that “we’re proud to call [them] New Yorkers.”
Motioning to former President Bill Clinton, Bloomberg said, “People call you Mr. President; I call you Bill. He never seemed to object to that.”
Bloomberg also complimented Hillary Clinton. “She has worked for this country as few other people ever had,” Bloomberg said. “I am so proud to be able to call her a friend.”
Clintons weren’t ‘blessed with artistic talent’
Chelsea Clinton’s duty on stage was to introduce an eclectic musical performance by the Roots and other singers.
The former first daughter, noting that this would be her third time seeing the Roots perform, spoke humbly about her family’s musical skills.
“Outside of my father’s melodious, beautiful voice, we weren’t exactly blessed with artistic talent,” Clinton said.
Left unmentioned, of course, was Bill Clinton’s way with a saxophone.