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The towering Renaissance-inspired marble columns and trays of signature Bellini cocktails welcomed guests entering the legendary Cipriani 42nd Street for the National Italian American Foundation’s annual New York Gala on March 22.
Nearly 700 Italian and Italian Americans from New York and around the country attended the event, the most successful New York Gala in the Foundation’s history. During the cocktail reception, guests and honorees mixed and mingled while also perusing the sports memorabilia and designer accessories that were part of the silent auction.
SkyBridge Capitol Founder Anthony Scaramucci set photographers flashes ablaze on the pre-reception red carpet, beaming with excitement and speaking with every reporter that came his way. Scaramucci, one of the evening’s honorees, proudly shared with reporters his love for his Italian heritage and the importance of maintaining the culture for generations to come.
This year’s master of ceremonies, NIAF Celebrity Ambassador, entertainer and radio host Joe Piscopo, welcomed honorees and guests, and introduced Monsignor David Cassato, pastor to the parish of St. Athanasius in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who gave the invocation.
Italian American singer Jenna Esposito, best known for her tribute to legend Connie Francis, sang Italy’s national anthem, “Inno di Mameli,” while New York City based performer and NIAF member Christina Carlucci performed the American national anthem.
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 then introduced operatic powerhouse, The Sicilian Tenors (Aaron Caruso, Elio Scaccio and Sam Vitale) who serenaded guests with two beautiful Sicilian medleys. The performance was the perfect segue into a video presentation by the 2017 Region of Honor, Sicily, showcasing the region’s rich history, art, beauty and culture.
After dinner, Piscopo kicked off the awards ceremony with a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” bringing guests to their feet and getting everyone ready for the evening’s honorees.
Family, preservation of cultural values and a healthy respect for heard work were themes of the moving honoree videos, as well as their powerful acceptance speeches throughout the evening.
Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Anthony Cammarata Jr. was honored with the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Business and Real Estate.
“Today, I stand here in front of all my friends and family, a first-generation Italian American, married 29 years to my wife Laurie, my high school sweetheart, a house in suburban New Jersey, a Fortune 500 company – all the things my parents dreamed of when they came here,” Cammarata reflected as he received his award.
Displaying a reverence not just for the Italian Americans in this country, but also individuals of all cultures contributing to the preservation of Italian culture, the NIAF One America Award was conferred upon Shirley and Vernon W. Hill, II, founders of InterArch and Metro Bank, respectively. Past recipients of the One America Award have included Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeves and President George H.W. Bush.
Jackson Lewis P.C. Chairman, Vincent A. Cino was honored with the NIAF Special Achievement in Law, expressing to the crowd, “Like so many of you here tonight, growing up Italian American was all about family.”
Cooking with Nonna Host Rosella Rago, who received the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Community Leadership, spoke on the important of previous generations instilling valuable lessons and guidance.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s this; we need our Nonnas’ love and guidance now more than ever because as the world changes so rapidly around us, the values they teach us are timeless – unlike the ingredients they cook with, these ladies have no expiration date,” Rago said.
NIAF Special Achievement Award in Finance recipient Anthony Scaramucci told the audience, “It has been the luckiest thing in my life to be born Italian, to grow up Italian, to have Italian grandparents, to eat Italian food and [share in] the pride we all have.”
In between awards, Emmy-winning singer-songwriter ALFIO took the stage, belting out classics such as ‘Oh Mama” – a favorite of his father’s, and surprising the crowd with a new original song.
Matilda Cuomo, mother of New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo – and wife of legendary political force Mario Cuomo – stepped to the podium to bestow the latter’s namesake award to Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), Maria T. Vullo.
Cuomo spoke about the future of the Italian American community, specifically its female torchbearers, and urged the culture’s preservation in the next generation. “Tell your younger daughters and sons, nephews and nieces, to push this culture and speak the Italian language – it’s so beautiful,” she said.
As Superintendent Vullo took the stage, she spoke on the legacy of Mario Cuomo and how that legacy inspired her.
“As an Italian American, Mario Cuomo was an inspiration. Be proud to be Italian, be proud to be an American, stand up for your principles always, be willing to stand up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient,” Vullo said.
The event marked the finale of NIAF’s sitting Chairman of the Board, Joseph Del Raso, who took the stage with NIAF President and Chief Operating Officer John Viola.
Viola gave a moving tribute to Del Raso, crediting him largely for his own role at NIAF and describing their relationship as “very Italian” in the way they have worked together, passionately, to guide and grow NIAF.
When Del Raso stepped to the microphone, he mused fondly on his experience. “I’ve served 29 years on this board and it’s been some of the proudest moments of my life to represent our community and celebrate our Italian heritage and I can’t thank you enough for the support that you’ve given to the Foundation,” he said.