By Amanda L. Gordon (Bloomberg) – What was the forecast for the night? “Rain,” said David Tepper in the cocktail hour of the Robin Hood Foundation’s annual benefit. In other words, what he and fellow board member David Puth predicted would be the biggest night yet for the poverty-fighting organization.
“And now I have to mingle,” said Tepper, who runs hedge fund Appaloosa Management. Within hours, more than $101 million had been pledged — a record.
At the top of the program came New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Jon Bon Jovi and the announcement of a $25 million anonymous gift to start a fund for education and technology projects. Soon came another $25 million pledge from Bill and Karen Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation to match donations.
The event, the brainchild of David Saltzman and Paul Tudor Jones, has grown into Wall Street’s biggest annual philanthropic gathering, drawing titans from investment firms, banks, fashion and the silver screen. This year it was held amid a growing national conversation about income inequality, and just hours after President Barack Obama called on fund managers to accept higher tax rates to close that gap.
“It would take an hour to tell you how I feel about that,” said Home Depot founder Ken Langone of Obama’s remarks as he made his way into the event at the Jacob K. Javits Center. “I’m not disappointed that he did something.”
Michael Che of Saturday Night Live later riffed on stage about his tax bill to an audience of about 4,000: “I’ve never dialed 911. I put out all my own fires. I shouldn’t have to pay as much as someone who votes.”
Robin Hood, which has raised more than $2 billion since 1988, has a history of opening Wall Street wallets. Last year’s bash raised $60 million. The previous record, set in 2010, was $87.8 million. By comparison, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Ball drew upwards of $12.5 million last week, and the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner gathered more than $26 million in December.
During the cocktail hour, big letters spelled out “Together,” and the text on the walls emphasized not only supporting its programs but lending a hand as a volunteer.
Near the letter “R,” board member Larry Fink of BlackRock hung out with his son. Later he talked with Indra Nooyi, chief executive officer of PepsiCo. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met Jamie Hector of “Bosch” and “The Wire” as fellow Goldmanites including David Solomon and Gary Cohn gathered around. Morgan Freeman and Sting also were in the room.
Katie Couric, a new Robin Hood board member and the evening’s host, introduced two high school seniors who’ve benefited. One attended a school built by Robin Hood. The other recalled a check his family got after his father died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He remembered waking up early, sharing a bowl of cereal and watching his dad put on long black socks before walking out of the kitchen for work: “I’d watch ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog.’ It goes on commercial. We change it to the news,” he said. “It was 9/11.”
Paul McCartney performed at the end of the night. “Why are we here?” Jones asked the audience beforehand.
“Some of us are here because we want to see our friends, some are here because it’s great for business, and some of us are here because later on we want to see a Beatle,” he said. “But still all of us are here because it’s a joyful night, because we’re going to experience magic. That is, we’re going to come together, we’re going to achieve the highest, most noble aspirations of humanity.”