NEW YORK — Alfred E. Smith IV, who sustained the legacy of his great-grandfather, Al Smith, the New York governor known as “the Happy Warrior,” by good-naturedly ribbing presidential aspirants and other potentates as the master of ceremonies at an annual white-tie charity dinner, died Wednesday at his home in New Canaan, Conn. He was 68.
The cause was apparently a heart attack, his son, Alfred V, said.
Mr. Smith was the chief executive of A.E. Smith Associates, a business consulting firm he founded in 2009, and a director of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation. Cardinal Francis Spellman established the foundation in 1946 to memorialize Alfred E. Smith, the four-term Democratic governor of New York and the first Roman Catholic candidate nominated by a major party for president.
Mr. Smith was a vice chairman of the foundation and master of ceremonies of what became known as the Al Smith dinner, a New York political institution hosted by the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York and highlighted every four years by a much-anticipated roast of the two major-party presidential candidates in what is often their last face-to-face encounter before the November election.
In 1984, Walter Mondale skipped the dinner; in 1996, Mr. Smith was tasked with disinviting Bill Clinton for failing to support a partial ban on abortion; in 2004, the campaign was so polarized that neither President George W. Bush nor Senator John Kerry was invited. (Instead, the honored guests included former president George H.W. Bush and former govermor Hugh L. Carey. “We promised you Bush and Kerry, and you’ve got Bush and Carey,” Mr. Smith said.)
For Mr. Smith and his team, arranging the five-tiered wedding cake dais at the Waldorf Astoria without bruising egos was an annual logistical nightmare.
“Seventy-three people on the dais — it’s like tryouts for ‘Ben-Hur,’” Mr. Smith once said.
Intentionally or not, you were where you sat or where you were seen sitting.
In 1982, when Mario M. Cuomo was the Democratic candidate for governor, running against Lewis E. Lehrman, he felt he had been banished to Siberia because he favored abortion rights. “They had Lehrman and Bush lined up with the cardinal, and they had me with the waiters,” he recalled.
In 2013, Mr. Smith acknowledged the presence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mario’s son, who was said to be mulling a presidential bid in a field that included Hillary Clinton and, it was further said, was planning to publish a campaign autobiography.
“The title was going to be ‘The Son Also Rises,’” Mr. Smith said. “But he can’t. Not because of Hemingway, but because of Hillary.”
In 2016, during what is traditionally a display of self-deprecation, Donald Trump delivered a blistering barrage against Clinton and compared himself to the son of God — in his youth, he said, he has been just another “carpenter working for his father.” He was heckled, as President Jimmy Carter and Mayor John V. Lindsay had also been when they appeared.
As a New Yorker familiar with Trump, Mr. Smith had anticipated this tone the year before. (“Donald Trump is devout,” he said; “he worships Donald Trump.”) He acknowledged it again in his introduction in 2016.
“Before the dinner started, Trump went to Hillary and asked, ‘How are you?’” Mr. Smith said, waiting a beat. “She said, ‘I’m fine — now get out of the ladies’ dressing room.’”
Mr. Smith rarely neglected the incumbent governor and mayor. In 2015, he said that Andrew Cuomo had shown up only “because we told him Bill de Blasio would not be here,” referring to their long-running feud. And he confided that the habitually tardy de Blasio had arrived on time only “because we told him the dinner started at noon.”
Alfred Emanuel Smith IV was born May 24, 1951, in Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children of Walter J. and Helen (Conroy) Smith.
Raised in Rye, N.Y., he graduated from Iona Prep in New Rochelle and Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where he majored in finance. He inherited his father’s seat on the New York Stock Exchange when he was 21 and later worked as a broker in Chicago; a partner of CMG Partners, a business consulting firm, in New York; and managing director of Bear Wagner, which assists companies with investor relations and stock exchange listings.
He was the chairman of Hackers for Hope, which he helped found to raise money for cancer research. Mr. Smith was treated for throat cancer in his 30s.
In 1975 he married Nan Moore. She and his son survive him, as do a daughter, Catherine Smith Totero; six grandchildren; two brothers, Christopher and Timothy; and four sisters, Kathleen Smith Murray, Susan Smith Joyce, Helen M. Smith, and Ann Smith Konopka.