Red and green lights enveloped the ceiling of the International Ballroom in the Washington Hilton on Oct.26, bathing the National Italian American Foundation gala — including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — in the colors of the Italian flag.
“I served in a number of offices in my public life. In every position that I served, there was one important lesson, which is if you’re going to make a difference, you’re going to have to fight for it,” said Panetta, who flew in from California to accept the foundation's special achievement in government award.
Panetta, who also served as CIA director, White House chief of staff, Office of Management and Budget director and House Budget chairman, relayed stories that were a break from the government shutdown debate that had plagued public conversation in weeks past.
He told a tale about a boxer who did the sign of the cross over his chest before entering the ring and noted how the reliance on a belief is meaningless if it does not positively change the outcome of the fight.
Tying it to current political matters, Panetta explained that it is not enough to have hope — one must fight for its preservation and strengthen the degree at which it does exist.
In addition to Pelosi, the audience boasted a number of proud Italian-American members of the House, including Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh also attended, as did Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso.
“We have always had good participation in our government. We have an active delegation. They come out to our events and participate. If we call and need them, they’re there,” said John Viola, president and chief operating officer of the foundation.