Friday, April 5, 2013

Washington Social Diary

The Opera House before the program began. It was a full house.
by Carol Joynt

It doesn't take much for Hillary Clinton to draw a crowd. Just show up, really, and it helps to have the Vice President appearing at the same event. In fairness to the annual Vital Voices Global Awards, they always draw an enthusiastic audience, but Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center there was an extra level of energy and clamor to snag a ticket. The reason was simple: it was Clinton's first appearance back on the public stage, and her first speech, since leaving the State Department at the end of January. 

In mid-February we reported here that the Vital Voices event was how she would roll out, after taking a break to rest and to finish recuperation from her concussion and hospitalization, and our sources called it correctly. Now, they say, there will be more appearances and speeches, but don't hold your breath if you think there will be any indication of her plans for 2016. Just watch, just wait. 
Lined up at the Secret Service security check to get into the Opera House.
Next stop, Dallas, and her first paid speech on April 24 before the National Multi Housing Council. Coincidentally (and I write that with a skeptic’s smirk, because there are no coincidences in politics) Jeb Bush will speak on the same day and in the same city before the World Affairs Council. And the next day (smirk smirk) marks the official opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University, with Hillary, Jeb and all the living former presidents in attendance.

But back to Tuesday night. Clinton arrived in Washington after taking a holiday in the Dominican Republic. She appeared rested and cheerful. The most notable difference from her last public appearances was the absence of the thick eyeglasses, which her doctor made her wear due to the medication she was on after the concussion. But that's all behind her now, say friends. 
Hillary Clinton, delivering her first speech since leaving the State Department.
Former colleagues, maybe colleagues in the future, too, but certainly lasting friends, Hillary Clinton and Melanne Verveer.
The Opera House was packed for the Vital Voices event. The top tier was filled with young women, who periodically screamed as if they were at a rock concert. But there were no members of New Direction in the room, only supporters of the organization and award recipients who were being honored for their work on behalf of women, and charter members of Hillaryland. 

Clinton helped found Vital Voices when she was First Lady. That was 15 years ago. On the team at that time was Melanne Verveer, her White House chief of staff, who continued with her at the State Department and  is now at Georgetown University, considered a good perch from which to wait for the start of Clinton's presidential campaign, if there is a presidential campaign. There’s much debate about whether she would need to announce sooner or later. The Democratic field -- basically, Joe Biden -- waits at the starting gate for the decision. In truth, the waiting game is one of Washington’s favorite pastimes. It allows for so much cocktail and dinner table speculation, and enables so many self-appointed “experts” to land gigs on cable talk shows. 
Kristy Le, a good friend and confidant to Hillary Clinton. Also her manicurist. Also a co-chair of the Vital Voices Global Awards. Sachiko Kuno, head of the S&R Foundation and co-founder of Sucampo Pharmaceuticals.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell with her producer, Catherine. Diane von Furstenberg, wearing a sling due to a "skiing misadventure."
Verveer was among the honorees on Tuesday night, and was introduced by Clinton, who was introduced by Diane von Furstenberg, one of the evening's sponsors with her husband, Barry Diller and their foundation. Furstenberg appeared wearing a black and white arm sling, which she said was the result of a weekend "skiing misadventure." 

Clinton made a brief speech, and while it wasn't particularly political it was clearly about issues that are fundamental to her -- fighting for women's rights globally, defending women who have to struggle against violence and injustice, and seeking out and assisting the individuals and organizations who lead these battles. “As Secretary of State I was determined to weave this perspective into the fabric of American foreign policy, so our diplomats and policy makers would see a map of opportunities as well as challenges,” she said.
Tina Brown.
America Ferrara.
Clinton’s perspective is the mandate for Vital Voices. "Women who lack opportunity, whether it is the opportunity to go to school, own land, start a business, run for office, should not be viewed as society’s problems, rather, as solutions, agents of change, drivers of progress, makers of peace," she said. "All it takes is for them to have a fighting chance. Our unwavering faith in the potential, the untapped potential of women and girls, is at the  heart of work we’ve done together over these many years.”

Clinton pointed out that Verveer was the first-ever ambassador at large for global women's issues and she expressed gratitude to President Obama because he "has made that a high level government position."  
Nicholas Kristof listens to award recipient Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia.
Vice President Joe Biden, who praised women in general but Hillary Clinton in particular.
Biden bounded on stage and started right off with a line that he knew would raise the roof. "There's no woman like Hillary Clinton," he said. "That's a fact." When the applause had subsided, he noted that her "declaration in China that women’s rights are human rights still echoes so forcefully around the world nearly two decades later.” He mentioned his own work in the Senate, helping to write the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which was just re-authorized. 

"If I could see out into the audience I’m confident there are scores of you who are the reason why it was able to pass in the first place and be re-authorized." Biden also called out to his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who has run his campaigns and who he calls "my best friend." Looking toward where she sat in audience, he said, "You can always tell a man who is comfortable with dealing with a powerful woman in his work, because you’ll know then he was raised by a strong woman, a sister, a wife, and daughters who are equally strong. My sister, who is much younger than me, raised me."
After the long program in the Opera House, the buffet at the after-party was popular.
Biden presented an award to three brothers from India, Ravi, Nishi and Rishi Kant, who formed a movement that works against human trafficking and sexual violence. On behalf of their organization, Shakti Vahini, they recieved the Solidarity Award. Other presenters included actress America Ferrara, Newsweek editor-in-chief Tina Brown and NBC correspondent Ann Curry. With each award there was a film that highlighted the work of the honoree. They included 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who couldn't be there because she is recovering from a recent assassination attempt back home in Pakistan. She won the Global Trailblazer Award and is also a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. 
Nishi and Rishi Kant, who with their brother Ravi won the Solidarity Award for their work in India against human trafficking and sexual violence.
Ravi Kant, who was an honoree with his brothers. Honoree Tep Vanny of Cambodia, who fights for human and land rights in her native Cambodia.
Award winners who were at the Kennedy Center event, in addition to Verveer and the Kant brothers, were Dr. Hawa Abdi, a physician and human rights activist in Somalia; Sandra Gomes Melo, the director of the Civil Police Academy in the federal district of Brasilia, Brazil; Tep Vanny, who fights for human and land rights in her native Cambodia; and Manal Yaish Zraiq, a Palestinian businesswoman and property developer.

Even if the evening was not a political campaign appearance, it did have moments that felt like the very early steps of 2016: well-timed applause breaks in the speeches, a standing ovation for Clinton and for Biden, and then a gaggle of Clinton fans outside the Kennedy Center, shouting and holding high in the air what looked very much like campaign posters. They call themselves “Ready for Hillary.”
NBC Correspondent Ann Curry, who was one of the award presenters.
Melanne Verveer at the after-party.
Krista and Philippe Depeyrot.
Elyse Nelson, who runs Vital Voices.
Enjoying the party, Dr. Hawak Abdi of Somalia.
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt