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Event organizers switch charities for ‘rogue’ politician

Organizers of the April event that will bring former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to Hamilton say they are not bowing to any political pressure for switching charities.

The decision to change the beneficiary from Hamilton Health Sciences to Charity of Hope, which assists underprivileged children, was made by the organizers, said Dennis Concordia, event co-chair.

“The discussion has turned negative against an innocent third-party,” said Concordia. “We didn’t think it was fair to (HHS). There was absolutely no pressure from outside for us to make the decision.”

He said organizers spoke to HHS officials about the change earlier this week.

Concordia acknowledged the organizing committee, which included Peter and P. J. Mercanti, selects controversial speakers for a reason. They believed Palin, who during her selection as Republic presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate, sharply divided the American public because of her views, would equal the committee’s previous contentious selections, including former U. S. president Bill Clinton, actor Michael Douglas and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“We expect some controversy,” said Concordia. “We think people would want to meet her up close and person because of that.”

When Palin was announced as the keynote speaker earlier this month, organizers trumpeted that she “reflected the organizer’s values and polices.”

But since the announcement that Palin, an outspoken advocate for private health care, would be raising money for a publicly funded hospital, Hamiltonians have roundly condemned the choice.

Concordia said the Mercanti family has been generous supporters of Hamilton Health Sciences, and has organized many charitable events for St. Peter’s, St. Joseph’s Health and the Juravinski Cancer Centre.

The Charity of Hope was created by the Mercanti family and a group of friends. It evolved into a charitable organization assisting under-privileged kids. Its founding supporters are Carstar, where Concordia is the vice-president of human resources, and Sam Mercanti. It has provided help to CityKidz, which assists children in urban Hamilton.

Concordia said the Mercanti family immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1956 and found financial and familial success. Now they want to give back to the community that helped them, said Concordia.

Meanwhile, tickets for the April 15 event go on sale Monday, Dec. 20. Concordia said there are already reservations for 160 tickets, and corporate sales reaching about 600.

“Sales have been great,” he said. Interest has been generated across the

country from southern Ontario, Buffalo and even from a British Columbia man who is expected to visit Hamilton just for the event. Tickets cost about $200 and up. Carmen’s holds a maximum of 1,000 people. It is estimated that Palin, whose autobiography, Going Rogue, has sold over a million copies and made the New York Times book list, will pocket about $200,000 for the speech.

Concordia said Palin’s topic for the speech remains under discussion.

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