U.S. Rep’s speech raises jeers, cheers at JVC luncheon

There was mixed reaction to a congressman’s partisan speech to jewelry industry executives in which he criticized the Bush administration for offering tax cuts during a time when he says the U.S.’s “War on Terrorism” needs more funding.

The speech given by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.) at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee annual luncheon on Friday, Jan. 10, drew applause, but several attendees walked out during the presentation due to the speech’s partisan nature and the fact that it was not tailored to the jewelry industry, according to persons attending the event. Much of the content of the speech was previously reported on the JCK Web site and in last week’s JCK eMonday newsletter.

Cecilia L. Gardner, JVC executive director and general counsel, said that she received “a lot of very positive feedback” on the speech and “got very few negative comments.” When asked if the criticism was based on partisan political positions, she responded, “Absolutely, without any question in my mind. But the comments were fair in the sense they felt it was an inappropriate forum to raise those issues. But the majority of comments were positive and the reaction to the congressman himself was very positive.”

One of the attendees who approached Gardner to express his displeasure with the speech was Victor Weinman, CEO of ODI, Long Island City, N.Y. Weinman, a Republican, said that the content of the speech was inappropriate.

“I make no secret of the fact that I am a Republican but I certainly make no secret of the fact that this is an industry organization,” Weinman says. “This organization is for the industry and supported by the industry. It is not a forum for the Democratic Party.

“I especially thought he was going to discuss security issues,” he adds. “That is part of the responsibility of JVC.”

Avi Raz, CEO of A & Z Pearls Inc., Los Angeles, who describes himself as a registered Democrat and a Bush supporter, also said he was disappointed in the partisan nature of the speech. In fact, he was one of two persons who said they walked out because of the speech.

“I was disappointed because he took the stage and attacked the president on the war on terrorism. I disagree with him and it was the wrong crowd to be so political,” Raz said. “I expected him to talk about jewelry involvement, if there is any, with al Qaeda, the security of [salespeople] traveling with jewelry through airports—things like that, which would appeal to the audience, rather than give a political speech. I really thought he would bring us up to date.”

Both Gardner and JVC president Hank Siegel said they did not see anyone walk out during the speech. And, like Gardner, Siegel said the reaction that he has received since the event was positive.

“We invited Congressman Nadler to speak,” Siegel said. “We asked him to address issues important to our industry and told him about our accomplishments. Unfortunately, when you invite someone you have little control over what he will say.

“I apologize if anyone was uncomfortable,” he adds. “It was certainly not our intent to offend anyone by his arguments. The feedback that I have received has been nothing but positive, not only about the luncheon but about the effectiveness of the JVC and the important work that we do and the objectives we achieve. I was standing in the back and did not see anybody walk out.”

Jeff Fischer, president of Fischer Diamonds, New York, disagreed with much of the criticism of the speech. He said that it was “refreshing” to hear about important issues outside of the jewelry industry and that people should expect a politician to express partisan opinions.

“My first reaction was that I found it refreshing that it wasn’t specific to the jewelry industry,” Fischer said. “He’s a congressman. The scope of his concerns is supposed to extend further from the routine of our daily business. I appreciate the fact he spoke of other topics. Most of us have tunnel vision. We come to a jewelry event and act as if nothing exists outside our jewelry world.”

He adds, “I took it as a political speech. I would have expected everyone [to expect] a political speech and accept it for what it was. The man is a member of a political party and he is going to be making remarks from the perspective, if not bias, of his political party. We just accept that. That doesn’t make the remarks factual or unfactual. That has to be analyzed on its own merits. The fact that it’s biased or otherwise politically slanted doesn’t necessarily make the speech worthless.”

Editor’s note: The controversial reactions extended to JCK’s own offices, as one of the people who walked out during the speech was JCK publisher Frank Dallahan. “Congressman Nadler’s comments were totally inappropriate for a group gathered together to celebrate the success of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee,” Dallahan said. “His speech was one-sided, purely political, and its relevance to the Jewelers Vigilance Committee was nil.”

But JCK editor-in-chief Hedda Schupak and senior editor Rob Bates both liked Nadler’s speech. Said Schupak, “I can see why people might be upset that the talk had little to do with jewelry, but I have no argument with anything Nadler said. I thought he raised some excellent points. Besides, that’s what freedom of speech is all about—he’s free to say what he wants, and the audience is free to walk out if they don’t like what he says.”