When Robert F. Kennedy Campaigned on the Lower East Side

Posted on: September 6th, 2013 at 10:43 am by
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Photo: The Robert Capa and Cornell Capa ArchiveIt’s election season, so why not a history lesson…

In September 1964, senatorial hopeful Robert F. Kennedy visited the Lower East Side. The above photo was snapped outside the former Isidor Theatre of the Educational Alliance while on the campaign trail. He was elected in the November election.

Kennedy returned three years later as senator with local native Senator Jacob Javits (yeah, that one). The Village Voice covered this high-profile visit in its May 11, 1967 issue. Herewith, some interesting excerpts:

After a Senate hearing on Grand Street to evaluate the War on Poverty and a gefilte fish lunch at Ratner’s, Bobby Kennedy and Jacob Javits spent a rainy Monday afternoon walking around the Lower East Side.

The Senators first visited Javits’s birthplace at 85 Stanton Street. A bronze plaque on the wall of the condemned building glistened. Local anti-poverty workers had cleaned it hours before to erase an unkind remark about the Senator.

Javits said that his boyhood neighborhood had changed. “It’s not as teeming as it used to be,” he said. “It’s much poorer now, not in actual monetary terms but in its feeling, its ride.”

The Senators stopped at 114 Stanton Street to visit the tenement home of Manual Silva. Garbage was piled in the hall, and the stairs were dark. The building was on rent strike.

As the Senators, anti-poverty officials, and newsmen climbed the four flights of stairs, bewildered tenants stared through half-opened doors. They walked through Mrs. Silva’s kitchen, where dinner steamed on the stove, into the living room of the $57-a-month apartment. The furniture was covered with clear plastic. In the corner sat a 24-inch television set.

“It’s not satisfactory to have housing,” he [Kennedy] continued, “if you don’t have jobs. It’s not satisfactory to have education if you don’t have recreation.”

Kennedy would be dead a year later, assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan.

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