When Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, he was at the time a Senator from the great state of New York. Yet, since we associate the Kennedy’s with Washington, DC, and Massachusetts, no one really remembers RFK’s ties to New York. Now, Gov. Eliot Spitzer wants to correct that oversight.
In today’s State of the State address, Spitzer will announce his plans to rename New York City’s Triborough Bridge in honor Robert F. Kennedy. The new name for New York’s iconic bridge will the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge. That’s a mouthful.
The New York Times’ Sewell Chan has the response from the Kennedy family at Cityroom:
“I think we’re very excited about it, and very pleased,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the eldest of Senator Kennedy’s 11 children, said in a phone interview this morning. “I do know this has been a dream for quite awhile. We’re very, very happy that Governor Spitzer has decided to take it on.”
Mrs. Townsend, who was 17 when her father died, recalled traveling over the Triborough Bridge with him from La Guardia Airport as a child. “I remember going over it so many times with my father, when he was a senator, coming into Manhattan, going out,” she said. “It’s really touching. It would be really fabulous to recall that he was the senator from New York, if ever so briefly, and that there would be a way to remember him in that city. It would be wonderful tribute to all that my father did.”
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that someone has tried to rename the bridge in honor of RFK. According to The Sun, in 1975, Gov. Hugh Carey wanted to name the bridge after RFK but was blocked by none other than bridge builder Robert Moses himself. Gov. George Pataki also thought about the idea.
In response to this announcement, well, I’ve never seen such vitriol from the Cityroom commenters. While a lot of people were critical of the idea, basically, it came down to two complaints: New York tradition and RFK’s tenuous relationship to the state. The Triborough, they argue, is a self-explanatory name and evokes images of New York’s spirit during the Depression. Plus, RFK ran for Senate in New York so he could better position himself to run for president. (Hmmm. Doesn’t that sound familiar?)
My initial thoughts here turned to Robert Moses. The Triborough Bridge is a symbol of Good Robert Moses. This was Moses when he got stuff done that people wanted him to get done. This was well before the seemingly racist Moses who had no regard for New York City neighborhoods or its people.
If anything, the bridge should be named for Robert Moses himself. Of course, we can’t name the bridge Good Robert Moses Memorial Bridge, and associating Moses’ name with anything in this city is still problematic even today, nearly 30 years after Moses’ death.
My next thought is to live the bridge as it is. The Triborough Bridge is a simple name for a rather majestic set of roadways and bridges that pass through and connect three boroughs and a few islands. But it’s a New York icon. If this name change goes through, in ten or twenty years, New Yorkers will still call it the Triborough Bridge. Don’t believe? Just ask someone to point out the Joe DiMaggio Highway, so named in 1999.
In the end, this name will serve as a fitting tribute for a man who was a real leader in civil rights in America and a man whose career and live were cut tragically short. But I do have to wonder if the bridge is the best of things to name after RFK. The Triborough already has a name, and New Yorkers are not quick to forget it.