BGC, a voice brokerage arm of Cantor Fitzgerald, is holding its third annual charity telethon of sorts today to commemorate September 11. Customers who call in to Cantor's downtown BGC trading floor today may get their orders placed by Yogi Berra, Whoopi Goldberg, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Eli Wallach or any of the other celebrities visiting the trading floor. (Each celebrity was brought in by one of the 40 charities participating, which will receive the firm's trading profits for the day.) "September 11 is not a day you want to go out and go to work," Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick told us. The firm, as you probably already know, lost 658 employees -- about two-thirds of its work force -- in the World Trade Center bombing. "But if you're going to go, our feeling is, get up and take care of others." He said the charity day was a way for employees to heal -- the charitable organizations were hand-picked by employees and customers. "It becomes fun -- there's a lot of energy in the room," he said, amidst the sounds of camera flashbulbs and laughter.Although the idea of a festive, celebrity-studded event on September 11 sounds tasteless, when we attended this morning we found it to be relatively low-key and well-intentioned. "It's a fine line to walk," acknowledged Roger Campbell, chief administrative officer of BGC and the organizer of Charity Day. "But we were lucky enough to be able to help the families of those lost that day. Now we're looking forward and want to use this day to remember and to help people." Campbell personally invited the organization Wounded Warriors because his wife works as a psychologist for the Veteran's Administration and is familiar with the work of this group, which provides free use of resort condominiums in Orlando and Galveston, Texas to wounded military officers and their families. Several young soldiers who had been wounded in Iraq were in attendance. "These kids have a lot of courage -- many of them lost limbs but they aren't bitter, they make the best of things and move on," Campbell said. As we talked to Campbell, Dr. Ruth walked by. "Make a lot of money!" she called out loudly to him, her fist raised in the air.
"I run this chaos," said a friendly Daniel LaVecchia, president, North America for BGC, introducing himself to us. "With our acquisition of Eurobrokers in June 2005, we now have close to 400 brokers on the floor. We trade everything -- credits, emerging market bonds, CDSs, repos, interest rate swaps, Mexican swaps." He said last year's charity event raised $5 million and more is hoped of this year's event, which is bigger.
One of the charities, whose representatives brought actor Eli Wallach, was Project FIND. FIND stands for Friendless, Isolated, Needy and Disabled, and this organization provides housing, food, gardening classes and other services to 220,000 homeless people over 55 years old. "Some people just take showers with us, others take meals or stay in one of our three residential buildings," said executive director Cynthia Dial. "A lot of these people are mentally and physically frail and need a place to stay."
Books for Kids, a group that has built 55 children's libraries in underprivileged neighborhoods, brought Robert Funaro, an actor on the Sopranos, and Dr. Ruth to the event. "People keep saying to Robert, 'You're dead, why are you still walking around?'" said executive director Anne Marie Principe, because Funaro's character on the show has been killed off. In 2001, Principe had a modeling and talent agency in the military zone adjacent to Ground Zero, which meant that for many months she couldn't go in or out of her office (except for the 20 minutes she was given to gather belongings), yet she still had to pay her lease. Instead of rebuilding her company, she became a children's advocate -- "I went from Cosmo to Congress," she said. "Children who learn to read before kindergarten are less likely to become involved in crime or become young parents.
Jon Eckert, a bond trader at BGC, invited The Cancer Research Institute, which in turn brought actress Harriett Harris (she's been on Desperate Housewives, Frasier and Broadway). "A friend of mine's great-grandfather founded the Cancer Research Institute -- he was a surgeon who discovered a way to treat tumors that was considered heretical at the time," he said, by injecting the tumors with the first vaccine. The organization still focuses on supporting the development of cancer vaccines, working with scientists and pharmaceutical companies. "Our scientists developed the basis for Gardisil, a vaccine for the virus that causes cervical cancer," said Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, executive director.
The Blythedale Children's Hospital was invited to the Charity Day because someone at BGC is a big fan of WPLJ's Scott & Todd in the Morning show, which broadcast an episode from the hospital. This hospital provides treatment and rehabilitation for babies who are premature, brain injured or diabetic. "We're thrilled and grateful to be here," said Betsy Bowman, director of development.
Tony Sirico of the Sopranos works with BGC bond traders on September 11.