Political consultant Art Collins’s annual brunch — held each year in celebration of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference — has come a long way in almost two decades.
“The first year we didn’t have any clients,” recalled Collins, managing partner of the consulting firm theGROUP, during his 19th early-afternoon gathering called “the Saturday Brunch.”
“I literally ran around the convention center handing out fliers to strangers asking them to come,” Collins said Saturday. To his surprise, 15 members of the Congressional Black Caucus showed up that first year, and in the years since, they’ve kept coming — and so have their powerful friends. Former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. was at the brunch last year, and Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett also has attended. This year, actor Omari Hardwick, the much salivated-over star of “Power” on Starz, made his way through the crowd at A-list hot spot Fiola Mare in Georgetown. (007 himself, actor Sean Connery, was spotted having lunch there Friday.)
Apt comparisons to professional connector Tammy Haddad’s pre-White-House-correspondents’-dinner gathering aside, Collins’s brunch is light on the La-la-land and heavy on the Washington heavyweights.
On Saturday, billionaire businessman Robert Johnson and White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer and Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) were among the powerful Washington crowd at Fiola Mare.
“This is the place to be today,” said Butterfield as he walked into the posh waterfront restaurant, much of its furniture removed — all the better to pack in Washington’s important people, my dear. But “the brunch” is hardly one of the wall-to-wall affairs with barely enough elbow room for a handshake. The event purposely lacks the “Am I on the list?” logjam increasingly associated with the rest of the ALC’s ancillary receptions. The uninvited need not even try. We even overheard one out-of-towner whispering about it the night before. “I’m not big-time enough — yet.”