Enduring Wish May Come True in RFK Bridge
BY JACOB GERSHMAN – Staff Reporter of the Sun
January 8, 2008
From the New York Sun
It has been an enduring wish of the Kennedy family that the Triborough Bridge be renamed in honor of Robert F. Kennedy, the former New York senator who was assassinated almost 40 years ago.
According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Governor Carey in 1975 said he was planning to permanently attach the senator’s name to the bridge until the proposal was scuttled by the man responsible for its construction, Robert Moses. Governor Pataki, the younger Mr. Kennedy said, considered the idea but never acted.
A month ago, Governor Spitzer called Mr. Kennedy and told him that he would grant the family’s wish and launch an effort to rechristen the monumental complex of water crossings, a viaduct, and 14 miles of approach roads that connects Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The bridge also serves as a pathway to the airport named after RFK’s older brother.
“He would be really, really happy that the bridge was going to be named in his honor,” Mr. Kennedy, 53, told The New York Sun yesterday. “One of the things he made an effort to do was connect people from upstate New York with the city and Long Island. So it’s really appropriate because the Triborough physically does that.”
Mr. Spitzer is expected to announce the plan tomorrow in his annual State of the State address to lawmakers in Albany.
Originally, the Democratic governor intended to use the speech to publicize his intention to rename another important New York site, a source in the administration said. Early drafts of the speech highlighted a plan to name Hudson River Park, the yet-to-be-completed span of walkways and bike paths running along Manhattan’s West Side, after Governor Pataki.
Mr. Pataki, a Republican, won’t be attending the address, a factor that apparently led to removing mention of the plan from the speech, according to a source.
Mr. Spitzer’s Triborough proposal, which must be approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is certain to reignite a debate among residents about the meaning and purpose of attaching people’s names to pieces of the city.
What contribution to the city or attachment to the state justifies such an honor? Should a bridge or a park be named after a person, or should a simple but accurate descriptive title — such as Central park — suffice? And do new names stick in the collective memory? Think Newark Liberty International Airport.
In the case of Kennedy, according to one leading historian, the renaming may rekindle questions about the assassinated civil rights leader’s connection to New York, a point of contention in his 1964 senatorial bid against the Republican incumbent, Kenneth Keating, who labeled Kennedy a carpetbagger.
“He really wasn’t a resident of New York,” the editor of the Encyclopedia of New York City, Kenneth Jackson, said in an interview. “It’s awful the way he died. He certainly was an important person in American history, just not an important person in New York history.”
Mr. Jackson said other New York figures, notably Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park and Prospect Park, and Andrew Haswell Green, who was instrumental in consolidating the five boroughs, arguably have stronger claims on such recognition than Kennedy.
Kennedy was born in Massachusetts but spent his childhood in Riverdale in the Bronx and Bronxville in Westchester. He served as senator from 1965 until his death on June 6, 1968.
“I have a lot of respect for Kenneth Jackson, but that issue was settled when my father ran for Senate there,” Mr. Kennedy told the Sun.
In 2004, the late New York writer Jack Newfield wrote a column in the Sun championing the Triborough idea.
“Whatever is named for RFK should have some symbolic meaning of unity. Ethel Kennedy’s idea of re-naming the Triborough Bridge seems ideal in this way, since it links three boroughs of immigrant diversity. RFK was able to build bridges between blacks and whites, young and old, left and right, rich and poor. He was a bridge over troubled waters,” Newfield wrote.
Said President Roosevelt on the day the bridge was opened to the public on July 11, 1936: “This Triborough Bridge was neither in its conception nor in its building a matter of purely local concern. Nation, state and city, each in its own way, has contributed to the gigantic undertaking.”