It was a helluva boys’ night out at the
New York Sheraton on June 19 when the audience of mostly male
Xaverian HS supporters turned out to honor former Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani at the Joe DiMaggio Award gala.
It was also not unlike Christmastime, as the all-boys Catholic high school showered Rudy with gifts: a crystal baseball bat, a No. 5 jersey autographed by DiMaggio that he wore when the Yankees won the 1951 World Series, an autographed baseball bat used by Joe D. and a custom portrait by Igor Babailov of Rudy, with the Statue of Liberty looming large in the background.
The late Yankee Clipper was introduced to Xaverian High School by Dr. Rock Positano, an alumnus and board member of the school. (The foot specialist met DiMaggio in 1989 when the retired baseball player sought medical attention for a heel ailment.) Positano was chairman of this year’s gala.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, last year’s DiMaggio Award recipient, presented this year’s award to Giuliani.
"He said we are going to lick this problem [on Sept. 11]," said Kissinger. "It wasn’t scripted. It came from deep within him. He’ll be a great American hero for as long as he lives."
The Nobel Prize winner was surprisingly deft at keeping the tribute from becoming maudlin.
"People ask me, would I recommend [Giuliani] for Secretary of Homeland Defense?" said Kissinger. "I have a special reason for saying yes. He’s a consultant. He’s competing directly with me. I’ll recommend him for anything. If I don’t get him off the street soon, I’ll have a cash-flow problem!" Giuliani accepted the award from Kissinger to a roaring standing ovation.
"I’m also here because of Rock Positano," said Giuliani. "He would bust my feet if I didn’t come. That’s the Italian way."
He then quickly added, "I hope no one’s sensitive about that stuff."
Giuliani said he met DiMaggio after a Columbus Day Parade. "From the time I was a little boy, he was my hero," said Giuliani. Giuliani said he was told that DiMaggio returned the admiration because of his efforts to get the Mafia out of New York.
"Now, every time I see the beginning of the ’Sopranos,’ I think of Joe," said the Brooklyn-born former mayor. "The part I get all choked up about is when I see Tony driving to New Jersey - it gets to me."
Michael Badalucco (Emmy-award winning actor from the television show "The Practice" and a 1972 alumnus of Xaverian) served as master of ceremonies. Waiting for the event to begin, he spent time chatting in the VIP room with his former Xaverian math teacher, Ray Agoglia.
"I’m proud of my Italian heritage and the traditions of the Italian people," said Badalucco. "That includes eating pastries at Alba’s on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst!"
About Giuliani, Badalucco became more serious. "He’s a great man who embodies the spirit of America."
Xaverian President Sal Ferrera said Badalucco was one of the school’s most famous alumni, and is still remembered for his participation in the Clippers Drama Club and a "memorable rendition of Santana’s ’Oye Como Va.’"
The gala raised more than $500,000, according to preliminary estimates, for the Joe DiMaggio Scholarship Fund at Xaverian High School, 7100 Shore Road. The fund provides scholarships to students qualifying for financial aid, and will also benefit the Bay Ridge school’s Real Academic Achievement (REACH) program for college-bound students with learning disabilities.
Also showing support for the school and former mayor were former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News, Hamptons restaurateur and advertising guru Jerry Della Femina, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau and Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo.
Comedian Joe Piscopo sang a tribute in the style of Frank Sinatra. Creating new lyrics for "The Lady is a Tramp," Piscopo sang "Rudy is a champ."
"Who cares they named him Rudolph/ He gives Italians a good name," he belted.
The crowd, which included family members of some of the 23 Xaverian alumni who died in the World Trade Center, whooped when he sang, "’Hail to the Chief’ should be your theme song."
Piscopo said he’s also a fan of the school. "I was a bad kid growing up," he said. "Xaverian’s REACH program was what I needed." Piscopo said he came to know about Xaverian through gala chairman Positano.
"He was a reporter for a school paper and came to interview me when I was at ’Saturday Night Live.’ He’s a great guy. One of my closest friends now," said Piscopo.
The comedian has created a production company, Avellino productions, which is producing a four-hour mini series for HBO, "Bloomfield Avenue," written by Chazz Palminteri ("A Bronx Tale"). And although it is about a family from Italy, "It’s an ethnic celebration. It’s not a lot of violence or hard edged" like that other HBO series about Italian-Americans. (He did concede that it is about real events - in Piscopo’s family perhaps?)
Italian-American heritage and heroism was an important theme of the evening.
Ferrera said, "Mr. Giuliani embodies the DiMaggio attributes of personal courage, grace and extremely high standards in everything he does. It is happily ironic that Joe thought highly of the former mayor and Mr. Giuliani idolized the Yankee Clipper. Clearly the award has come full circle for excellence."
So what did the city’s courageous 9-11 leader predict for New York’s future?
"I get asked, ’How do I see New York 100 years from now?’ I thought of a serious answer," said Giuliani, but then the devout Yankee fan opted for the obvious: "Getting ready for the World Series in October."
On June 14, filmmaker John Sayles addressed audience questions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music before a screening of his film "Matewan" (1987), which recreated a coal miners’ strike. BAM screened restored prints of Sayles’ films in a series called, "The John Sayles Film Restoration Project."
His new film, "Sunshine State," about resort developers moving into a sleepy Florida town, features amazing performances by Edie Falco ("Sopranos") and Angela Bassett ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back").
New Orleans boogie and blues pianist Dr. John (aka Mac Rebbenack) kicked off the Celebrate Brooklyn performing arts series on June 20.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also came to the band shell, at Ninth Street and Prospect Park West in the park, to greet the crowd.
Next up at Celebrate Brooklyn is a performance by Sarah Harmer on June 28 and a seven-hour Kreyol Festival on June 30. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will give a rare outdoor gig on July 5.
For a complete schedule of events, go to www.celebr