The evening was full of excitement as guests entered the legendary Cipriani 42nd Street for the National Italian American Foundation’s annual New York Gala on April 28.
Outside, many New York Mets fans and other baseball fans awaited the arrival of honoree Mike Piazza, who in July will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Inside, the high energy, anticipation and positive vibe were palpable. Gala guests and notables mixed and mingled during the pre-dinner reception where Bellini cocktails were served beneath the towering Renaissance-inspired marble columns.
Besides Piazza, Luigi P. “Lou” Carnesecca, legendary coach of St. John’s University’s basketball team and inductee of the Naismith Basket Ball Hall of Fame, headlined the list of distinguished honorees of industry executives in business, finance and real estate.
Before the program, guests viewed the sports memorabilia, fine jewelry and designer women’s purses that were part of the silent auction. Radio personality Skeery Jones, of Z100’s Elvis Duran and the Morning Show, led the live auction with two tickets to the Hollywood premier of “Devil in the White City” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. Also up for auction: A NIAF dinner series, prepared by a James Beard award winner, with actor Paul Sorvino; two tickets to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and a baseball signed by Mike Piazza.
Beyond welcoming honorees and guests, NIAF Chairman Joseph V. Del Raso introduced Monsignor Jamie J. Gigantiello, vicar for development for the Diocese of Brooklyn and administrator of St. Bernard Parish in Mill Basin, who gave the invocation.
New York Gala Dinner Chairman Gerard S. LaRocca, a member of NIAF’s Board of Directors and the Italian American Leadership Council, and chief administrative officer, Americas, Barclays Capital, thanked the Foundation’s New York committee and the evening’s sponsors for making the NIAF New York Gala into the institution it is today.
LaRocca introduced three women leaders serving on the Foundation’s Board of Directors: Linda R. Carlozzi Esq.; Patricia de Stacy Harrison and Anita Bevacqua McBride. Together they spoke about the late Honorable Marie L. Garibaldi, NIAF executive vice president and former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, whose passing in mid-January affected the Italian American community in New York and New Jersey.
“Judge Garibaldi was part of our family, she taught us about life and how to move through it with confidence and a compass. She did it all with great style and beauty,” Harrison said, presenting a posthumous honor to a beloved colleague with a video highlighting her many accomplishments.
“She was a mentor and helped open the door for us,” added McBride. “She set the bar of excellence very high.”
Carlozzi told the audience about a scholarship to honor Judge Garibaldi’s legacy that will be announced during the Foundation’s 41st Anniversary Gala in October, I n Washington, D.C. “We lost an exceptional, elegant woman and we mourn her loss.”
Please watch and enjoy highlights from the NIAF New York Gala on April 28 at Cipriani 42nd Street on CUNY-TV. The “Italics” segment includes interviews and a special tribute to the late Honorable Marie L. Garibaldi.
NIAF also presented the second-annual Mario M. Cuomo Award in Public Service to Joseph R. Guccione, managing director of Freeh Group International Solutions LLC. A video showcasing Cuomo’s legacy as a man of conviction and role model for the Italian American community was presented to the more than 720 guests. The award recognizes Italian American public servants who are known for their passion, conviction and dedication to serving the Italian American community.
“My parents instilled in me the values of public service to make a difference and improve communities,” Guccione said. “My role models, in addition to Cuomo, were Judge Louis Freeh; Alphonse D’Amato, and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.”
After dinner was served, this year’s master of ceremonies, NIAF Celebrity Ambassador, entertainer and radio host Joe Piscopo, kicked off the awards ceremony with a rousing rendition of “New York, New York,” a song made famous by Frank Sinatra. As guests applauded, he exclaimed, “Let’s get this party started—give me three hours and I will tell you how great Italians are.”
Piscopo recognized this year’s honorees, presenting the Foundation’s Achievement Awards to New York industrial leaders Frank Bisignano, chairman and chief executive officer of First Data Corporation; Michael J. Inserra, Americas vice chairman at EY; and Arthur J. Mirante ll, principal and tri-state president at Avison Young, in business, financial services and real estate, respectively.
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Bisignano, who had just returned home from his ancestral home in Italy the day before, remarked, “I am honored to come back from Italy and celebrate together with everyone—God bless America, God bless Italy, God bless NIAF.”
When Inserra received his award, he spoke about his parents who instilled values in his everyday life. He dedicated his award to his father. “I am a lifelong baseball fan, I am a Mets fan!” he said. ”In 1969, I went to a Mets game with my grandfather. It’s all about my family and parents who instilled values in me.”
Upon receiving his award, Mirante told the audience, “Tonight is a special evening honoring superstars in sports, business, real estate and finance…. The Italian culture we celebrate tonight was my childhood.”
At the podium, Chris Mullin, head coach of St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball, presented the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Sports to Carnesecca. “This is my Italian father,” Mullin said.
Carnesecca explained that, although he learned a lot as coach, what was most important he learned from his father: “Never have short arms, always put your $10 on the bar.”
ESPN host Tony Reali presented Piazza with the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Sports. Reali recounted how he met Piazza in 1993 and described him as powerful, faithful and true. He spoke of Piazza as a man of faith, family and metal (he could play Black Sabbath all night long).
”I am so grateful and proud to be Italian and want to thank NIAF as an organization for its work,” Piazza then addressed the crowd. “Please spread the word about NIAF, we need to continue to grow this organization.”
Noting that father, Vincenzo, was in the audience, Piazza raised his glass and toasted NIAF and its work.
Before the guests dined on Italian specialties, including pan seared sea scallops, thinly sliced prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and baby arugula salad, opera singer Cristina Fontanelli sang the U.S. national anthem and “Inno di Mameli,” Italy’s national anthem. As dinner was served, the Sicilian Tenors (Aaron Caruso, Elio Scaccio and Sam Vitale) serenaded the guests with a selection of songs, including “O Sole Mio” and “Mistero,” a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti.
Joining the honorees and guests were actors Michael Badalucco and Tony LoBianco; former MLB managers Ken Aspromonte and Bobby Valentine, MLB third baseman Bob Aspromonte; and Denver Nuggets Sr. Vice President Pete D’Alessandro. Italian dignitaries included Italy’s Consul General in New York Francesco Genuardi and delegates from the Foundation’s 2016 Region of Honor – Piemonte, Italy. At the podium, NIAF Board member Jeff Capaccio acknowledged Piemonte with a special video showcasing the region’s rich history, art, beauty, industries and people.
To close the evening’s festivities, after a final course of ricotta cheese cake and espresso by Lavazza, NIAF’s President and Chief Operating Officer John M. Viola recognized and thanked the sponsors, honorees and guests for their continued support and commitment to the Foundation. “We Italian Americans are the luckiest people in the world,” said Viola. “God Bless America, Italy and all of us.”
The NIAF New York Spring Gala proceeds support the Foundation’s philanthropic and educational programs. NIAF thanks this year’s Title Sponsor, First Data, and its Presenting Sponsors, Bank of America, Columbus Citizens Foundation, and SkyBridge Capital LLC.