The Triborough Is Officially the R.F.K. BridgeBy Sewell Chan
The Triborough Bridge — Robert Moses’s three spans connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — was formally renamed on Wednesday for Robert F. Kennedy.
At a ceremony in Astoria, Queens, Gov. David A. Paterson, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton, other dignitaries and members of the Kennedy family paid tribute to Kennedy, the New York senator and United States attorney general in his brother’s administration who was assassinated 40 years ago [pdf] during his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The move to rename the bridge had the support of the Kennedy family and was championed by Mr. Paterson’s predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in March. But doubts remain about whether drivers will use the new name, and some have questioned the use of $4 million in state funds to make new signs at a time when New York faces steep deficits.
Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria, said in a statement on Wednesday:
Robert Kennedy was a great man, but this isn’t the time. While one agency that gets money from the state is raising fares and cutting service to the neighborhood at the foot of the bridge, another has somehow found a way to spend millions of dollars on changing the signage of it.
None of that criticism, however, was evident at the ceremony itself, which was attended by members of the Kennedy family.
The Kennedys and their friends boarded buses to the event outside the Waldorf-Astoria on Wednesday morning. The caravan proceeded with a police escort to the bridge.
Upon arrival, family members were given gold apple pins for their lapels to distinguish them from other guests. Among those in attendance were William J. vanden Heuvel, who was an aide to Kennedy at the Justice Department, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, former Mayors Edward I. Koch and David N. Dinkins and Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney who was one of Kennedy’s boyhood friends.
Ethel Kennedy, seated in the front row next to Mayor Bloomberg, stepped to the podium to receive the signed bill renaming the bridge from Gov. David A. Paterson. She also helped unveil the new green road sign, designating the bridge, at the end of the ceremony.
During his remarks, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of naming family members on the stage who had not yet been mentioned — “so I don’t get into trouble later” — among them Max Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II, Caroline Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith.
Mr. Clinton, in his remarks, made one noteworthy mistake: He discussed the importance of the bridge in linking Harlem, Queens and the Bronx — where Kennedy had done important work in “Bed-Stuy.” Mr. Clinton — who prides himself on being an adopted New Yorker with an office in Harlem and a wife who represents the state in the United States Senate — should probably know that Bedford-Stuyvesant is actually in Brooklyn.
Mr. Paterson, who signed the bill renaming the bridge over the summer, called the renaming “a fitting tribute to the man and his legacy.” He added, “Robert F. Kennedy was a champion of social justice and human rights and his spirit is kept alive by his family’s continued commitment to those causes.”
Mr. Bloomberg cited Robert Caro, Moses’s biographer, and Jack Newfield, the journalist, and mentioned that Tony Bennett, the singer, helped entertain the gathering when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia dedicated the Triborough Bridge in 1936. Mr. Bloomberg added:
I think it’s only fitting that the name of such an incredible bridge reflect both the grandeur of its scale and the significance of its purpose.
Robert F. Kennedy is a perfect match in both regards. He climbed mountains — literally. In fact, there’s one in Canada named for him. But he also scaled plenty of mountains in his political career, cracking down on organized crime, helping his brother resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, and fighting for equal opportunity for all Americans — from Bed-Stuy to Birmingham.
As United States attorney general, a U.S. senator from New York, and later, as a candidate for president, Robert F. Kennedy thought on a grand scale and achieved what many thought impossible.
He stood at the summit and saw the true soul of America. And like the great bridge that stretches above us, he tied us together: people of every color, every class, every creed. He united us — as New Yorkers and Americans — in the common cause of social justice. He devoted his life to the belief that America should be a place where any child — regardless of race or religion — has an equal shot at realizing the American dream of getting a good education, and of being elected to our nation’s highest office. He knew that day would come. And it has.
After the ceremony, streets were closed to allow the convoy of Kennedy relatives to return to Manhattan. A party to celebrate the renaming is scheduled for Wednesday night at Chelsea Piers.