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Inside Politics

Bush, Kerry not invited to charity dinner

From Karina Saltman

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America Votes 2004

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Officials at the Archdiocese of New York have decided not to invite President Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

This year marks the second time since 1960 that the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have not been asked to the annual charity dinner, which raises money for Catholic health-care services.

The dinner is scheduled for October 21 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York.

"The tradition of the Smith dinner is to bring people together," said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

"Given that issues in this year's campaign could provoke division and disagreement that would detract from that spirit, it was felt best to proceed in a different direction, while maintaining all of the ideals and values of the dinner." (Special report: America Votes 2004)

Zwilling declined to comment further on what issues might provoke division.

In 1996, President Clinton was not invited because Cardinal John O'Connor criticized him for vetoing a bill that would have outlawed some late-term abortions.

Dinner organizers decided that they did not want to appear partisan by asking the GOP challenger, Sen. Bob Dole, to attend if the president was not invited.

The candidates' running mates, Vice President Al Gore and Rep. Jack Kemp, spoke in their places that year.

This year's speakers will be former President George H.W. Bush and former New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey, a Democrat.

Zwilling described them as "outstanding speakers who will provide a memorable and enjoyable evening to the guests at the dinner."

Speakers traditionally give talks that are "witty, humorous and self-effacing," Zwilling said.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks spoke at last year's dinner, which raised $1 million.

Alfred E. Smith was a four-term Democratic New York governor who in 1928 became the first Catholic to be nominated for president.

Kerry, who supports abortion rights, is the first Catholic since John F. Kennedy to win the presidential nomination of a major party.

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