By Paula Katinas
Dyker Heights — “Whoever says Brooklyn is not sophisticated doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm told a small group of women gathered with him for an afternoon tea party.
“You even have a skirt on the teapot!” he said, marveling at the dainty covering over the teapot.
Grimm soon corrected himself.
“Oh, I’m told that that’s a tea cozy, not a skirt,” he said, wearing a big grin and an embarrassed look on his face.
Grimm may not know a tea cozy from a skirt, but he sure knows how to throw a tea party!
In honor of Women’s History Month in March, the congressman decided to pay tribute to eight outstanding females from the Brooklyn communities he represents — Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst — by hosting an afternoon tea party for them similar to the traditional “high tea” get-togethers in Great Britain.
The honorees included Georgine Benvenuto, a photographer for the Brooklyn Eagle and owner of Gallery 364, an art gallery on 72nd Street.
The party, which took place March 14 at Boulevard Books and Café, a bookstore on 13th Ave., had all the elements of a high tea, including crustless finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam, and, of course, a selection of the finest British teas.
The tea was poured and the cucumber sandwiches were consumed at tables specially set up in the back of the warm, sun-filled bookstore.
The delicate place settings included fine china that belonged to Clorinda Annarummo, a constituent aide to Grimm whose idea it was to have the lawmaker host the tea. Many of the dishes have been in Annarummo’s family for generations, she said.
Annarummo said that when she came up with the idea to have a tea, rather than a simple awards presentation, Grimm was all for it. “He wanted it to be something different,” she said. “He thought it was a great idea,” she added.
Joan Giachetti, a friend of Annarummo’s, explained the tradition of high tea and how it started out as an afternoon respite for the upper classes.
The honorees, in addition to Benvenuto, were: Arlene Rutuelo, chairman of the Norwegian Day Parade, owner of Nordic Delicacies, and a member of the Merchants of Third Avenue; Aida Nicolaou, a member of the board of directors of the Saint Nicolas Home; Susan Esposito, founder and president of Bridge to Youth, a program for autistic children; Zeinab Badier, founder of the Arab-American Women’s Association of New York; Eleanor Schiano, a member of the board of the Guild For Exceptional Children and a member of Community Board 10; and Phyllis Carbo, vice president of the women’s auxiliary of the Marlboro American Legion Post and treasurer of the 86th Street Bath Beach Kiwanis Club.
Tatiana Nicoli, owner of Boulevard Books and Café and co-president of the 13th Avenue Merchants Association, was also one of the honorees.
The women seemed pleased and honored to be in each other’s presence. “Really and truly I am sitting with women who know that the best thing to do is to reach out to someone in need,” Schiano said.
Each woman received a certificate and a bouquet of flowers from the congressman, who praised each winner and talked about the deep respect he has for women.
“I am one of those people who, since I was a young child, that has always had a profound respect for women,” Grimm said.
“I think it is proper for a gentleman to show respect for a woman,” Grimm said, adding that he sometimes wishes he could travel back in time to a period when men put women on a pedestal.
“It doesn’t mean we’re not equal,” he said.
Then, he quickly added, “You know the world is run by women.”
Grimm had particular praise for mothers.
“When people say, ‘What’s the most important job in the world?’ I think it’s a mother,” he said, adding that his own mom was a strong-willed woman. “A big part of who I am and why I chose public service is because of my mom.”
Grimm said he was honored to be in the presence of a group of accomplished women.
“Your contribution is immense. It can never be overlooked and you can never be thanked enough,” he said.