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Black Gives Himself 60th Birthday Party of Bad Taste

Photo composite by peHUB
Photo composite by peHUB

Leon Black has apparently learned nothing from Stephen Schwarzman.

In 2007, Blackstone CEO Schwarzman famously gave himself a 60th birthday party that cemented his reputation as the “villain of private equity.” Schwarzman’s $3 million bash, held at the Park Avenue Armory, featured Martin Short as the m.c., while Pattie LaBelle — leading the Abyssinian Baptist Church choir — sang a song written just for Schwarzman. Rod Stewart entertained the crowd with a medley of his hits (Stewart was reportedly paid $1 million for the gig), while guests dined on lobster, filet mignon, and baked Alaska, and were offered an array of expensive wines, according to various press reports.

Last Saturday, Black, the chairman and CEO of Apollo Global Management, gave himself a less-ostentatious-but-still-ritzy party to celebrate his own 60th birthday. I wasn’t there (guess my invite was lost in the mail), but it doesn’t seem as over-the-top as Schwarzman’s affair.  According to the New York Times, Black’s guests included Schwarzman, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, junk bond pioneer Michael Milkin, radio personality Howard Stern.

Black at least had the sense to hold the party at his oceanfront estate in Southampton, on Long Island, but this didn’t prevent Stern from blabbing about it on his radio show on Monday. Black had his backyard transformed into a faux nightclub setting with a buffet dinner that featured a seared foie gras station. Elton John — who the NYT said was paid at least $1 million — gave an hour-and-half performance that closed with “Crocodile Rock,” according to the story.

Schwarzman’s party occurred in 2007, in the midst of the buyout boom. His celebration was seen as a symbol of the new Gilded Age. Black’s fiesta, by comparison, just seems in poor, Michael Thomas (a former Lehman Brothers party who writes novels about Wall Street) told the NYT. While the U.S. has struggled to recover from the financial crisis of two years ago, Black’s firm and the rest of the PE world has rebounded. Multibillion-dollar buyouts have returned as the credit markets have strengthened, the story said.

The PE industry’s continued success has made it a target in Washington and there are some — including President Obama — who want to raise the 15% tax rate paid by PE execs on carried interest. Such a move could raise $21 billion over the next decade, the NYT story said. Many in the PE world are quite understandably against such a move. Schwarzman, last year, even compared the Obama administration’s proposed tax changes to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Today I asked Apollo how Black could justify such an opulent affair when the U.S. economy is tanking. I also asked why the Apollo CEO didn’t learn from the negative reaction to Schwarzman’s party. The firm declined comment.

In any case, here are some of the scathing comments generated by the New York Times story:

“Sounds like a lovely party. Early in the last century, [it] would have been one of the many causes leading to the Bolshevik Revolution — lavish lifestyles while the underling classes suffer horribly (otherwise known as an inequitable distribution of wealth).”

“The headline should be: An Orgy Of Bad Taste.”

“It’s not enough that Black and Blankfein et al have looted the American economy, impoverishing millions to line their own pockets. But no, they have to rub our noses in it, while toadies like Schumer kneel at their feet and polish their birthday shoes.”

“These people are, quite simply, disgusting pigs. May they not have many more.”