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While Some Organizations Cancel Mar-A-Lago Events, Others Fill The Gaps

Jan 27, 2018
Originally published on January 27, 2018 2:39 pm
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It's the height of the season for the social set in Palm Beach, which does not include BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. But at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club, there are some holes in the schedule. It's long been a favorite venue for fundraising galas, but some 20 charities have moved their events elsewhere following Trump's controversial remarks after last summer's white nationalist march in Charlottesville. NPR's Greg Allen reports the cancellations have created an opening for groups not concerned about being associated with the Trump name.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been 10 years, Terry Bomar says, since he held a fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago. His group Young Adventurers provides guidance, mentoring and travel opportunities for young people in need of direction. A close friend who was part of the group died, and Bomar said he was discouraged until he talked to Elizabeth Trump Grau, the president's sister.

TERRY BOMAR: And Elizabeth Trump said, you had the best event of the year when you had it before. Why don't you have another one? Don't let your charity stop. Just don't stop now. You did some great things. You'll do some great things. And she said, I'll help you if you need me to help you.

ALLEN: The event last night was small as Palm Beach galas go - about 275 people, half the size of big events like the Red Cross Ball, one of the many charities that severed ties with Mar-a-Lago. Bomar was pleased. The turnout was better than expected. The Trump family, he says, are great people, and he was happy to have the opportunity to hold his event at the height of the season.

BOMAR: When those others pulled out - the big boys pulled out - it opened up doors for me. That's why I'm having it in the middle of January instead of in October.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

ALLEN: Attendees sipped sparkling wine and munched on fried shrimp. President Trump wasn't there. He was on his way back from Davos. First lady Melania Trump had been at Mar-a-Lago but reportedly left before the ball Friday evening. Large photographs of the couple graced the stage, however, and a portrait of the first family was up for grabs in the silent auction. Patty Schechter says she's a snowbird who's new to Palm Beach, and she was ecstatic at the opportunity to see Mar-a-Lago.

PATTY SCHECHTER: The first thing I said was it's a mini Versailles. And then I also said fit for a king, and it's good for our king because I love Donald (laughter). Love our president.

ALLEN: That was the prevailing opinion for this group - Palm Beach residents who could afford a $600-a-plate ticket. As one attendee said, for a lot of people here, that's like taking a quarter out of their pocket. Giving to charities, wearing tuxedos and formal gowns, attending lavish galas are what the well-heeled do here in Palm Beach. Several said they were disappointed organizations like the Salvation Army and Susan B. Komen canceled. Joe Korff, looking dapper in a white dinner jacket, said he's been to many fundraisers here at Mar-a-Lago. The charities, he believes, overreacted.

JOE KORFF: I think in saner times, they would have not done what they did, but they did. And so we're here, and we're not there. This is the greatest venue known to man right here.

ALLEN: Maybe so, but this year, dates still appear available. The next fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, for a charity associated with the Christian Broadcasting Network, isn't for three weeks. Greg Allen, NPR News, Palm Beach, Fla.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: (Playing stringed instrument). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.