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Awarding Experience: Kerry, Pelosi Headline Annual ADA Banquet

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 12:13 PM
FALL 2011 >>

A deficit “Super Committee” member who was also a recent Democratic candidate for president and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives who may well regain her title next year headlined an overflowing 64th annual ADA awards banquet September 13.  Over 300 people attended the event, including a dozen members of Congress.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) took time out from his work on the 12-member Congressional debt panel—the most consequential body in Washington this fall—to present an award to ADA’s counsel, Jack Blum.  House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi received ADA’s inaugural Frances Perkins Award for Outstanding Government Service.

Pelosi described it as a “personal as well as official honor to receive this award—especially receiving it from [ADA president and U.S. Rep.] Lynn Woolsey. She is the personification of the values of ADA and the Conscience of Congress.”

With Kerry’s committee just starting its task of cutting over a trillion dollars from future federal budgets; President Obama beginning a nationwide tour in support of his jobs plan; and the GOP presidential race picking up steam—budgets, jobs and politics were all on the banquet speakers’ minds.

Mentioning he had watched a debate of Republican hopefuls the night before, Kerry said, “It’s absolutely stunning that any of them are legitimate candidates for President of the United States.” Earlier, he’d warned: “These are dangerous times we live in. Science: meaningless to people in high public office.  Facts: meaningless to people in high public office.  Our nation is at risk.”

While acknowledging legitimate concern about federal debt, Pelosi for her part slammed Republicans for “highjacking” the issue in order to “destroy the public space: education, clean air, Medicare, Medicaid.”

In describing how to fight back, the former Speaker specifically referenced ADA’s “Vote On Jobs” campaign, a coalition of dozens of organizations pushing Congress to move on key job-creating legislation.  She said that in the current budget battle, progressives had to move beyond “green eyeshade” numbers games and “take the fight to the higher level of values,” such as the importance of providing children with a good education.

“If you take it to that higher ground, you couldn’t possibly support the initiatives that Republicans propose,” Pelosi said.

Blum, a fraud-busting attorney, received the Winn Newman Lifetime Achievement Award, named for another champion of economic justice. Noting that Bank of America had just announced it was laying off 30,000 workers despite making $7 billion in profits and getting a tax refund from the government last year, Blum asked to laughter and applause: “What are you smoking if you believe that more tax breaks will actually lead to more jobs?”

Rounding out the evening’s presentations, Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley presented the Reuther-Chavez Labor Leadership Award to National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel.

On the road promoting the President Obama’s jobs plan, Van Roekel was unable to attend the banquet.  Accepting the award in his place was NEA executive director John Stocks, who provided some personal insight into the origins of the assault on public workers going on in state capitals across the nation the year.

Stocks, a one-time labor lobbyist in Wisconsin, said that when he returned to Madison this spring to “organize the resistance,” Republican legislators he’d worked well with in the past told him: “John, this is a national agenda coming from ‘on high’ and we’re all in lockstep, regardless of our personal feelings.”

Reflecting a growing partnership between ADA and the youth-based Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, college students staffed the sign-in tables and, at the appointed moment, fanned out among the banqueters to collect additional donations.

The event filled the ballroom at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Southwest Washington.  Fittingly for an audience in which union officials were well-represented, the D.C. Labor Chorus entertained, opening the event with the National Anthem and concluding it with labor’s anthem, “Solidarity Forever”.   As the chorus members—decked out in colorful dashikis—gathered at the front of the room to open the event, Pelosi left her table full of Congressional colleagues to personally thank each one.