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Amsterdam site of visit from RFK

Saturday, December 14, 2013
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U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was expected in Amsterdam on or about June 6, 1968, the day he died.

City resident Sam Vomero recalled that a sign announcing the date of the pending visit as June 6 was posted in the window of Kennedy’s local presidential campaign headquarters, the vacant Crown cigar store on East Main Street, a few doors west of Church Street.

Assassin Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy early on the morning of June 5 as the presidential candidate was being escorted through the crowded kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after announcing his victory in the California Democratic primary. Kennedy died of his injuries the next day.

Kennedy’s last words to the crowd in California had been “And it’s on to Chicago (where the Democratic convention would be held) and let’s win there.” Kennedy was reportedly scheduled to head back for a campaign trip in New York right after the California primary. A Recorder editorial on June 6 stated, “Plans had called for Senator Kennedy to be in Amsterdam later this week to open his Presidential campaign headquarters.”

A memorial service for Sen. Kennedy was held June 9 at what was then Amsterdam’s Lynch High School. The speaker was Robert K. Hatch, head of the school’s social studies department and a native of Boston who spoke with an accent reminiscent of the Kennedys.

“During the last few months of his life,” Hatch said, “Robert Kennedy traveled from the burned-out villages of South Vietnam to the hungry in Appalachia, from the slums of New York City to the migrant labor camps in California. He had great feeling for these people.”

Bobby Kennedy had visited Amsterdam on Sept. 17, 1960, when his brother Jack was running for president. The younger Kennedy, then 34, addressed a fundraiser for the Montgomery County Democratic Committee at St. John’s Hall, now the Elks Lodge.

Bobby Kennedy also came to Amsterdam on Oct. 19, 1964, during his campaign for U.S. Senate. Kennedy defeated one-term Republican Sen. Kenneth Keating in a national sweep for Democrats the year after President Kennedy was killed.

In his Amsterdam visit, Bobby Kennedy first stopped at Democratic headquarters in the former Enterprise Store on East Main Street. Hugh Donlon reported in the Recorder that “great numbers” wanted to shake hands with the candidate.

Kennedy then held a rally in the same Grove Street parking lot his brother had used in 1960 when campaigning in Amsterdam. The older brother drew a crowd of 3,000, while an estimated 1,200 were on hand to hear Bobby Kennedy. Skies were cloudy in 1964, and the event was threatened by rain.

There was what Donlon called “a juvenile outburst” as the candidate was about to speak. Kennedy got the crowd laughing as he said, “Senator Keating doesn’t like to read about yelling, so please keep your voice down. However, it’s all right with me.”

U.S. Rep. Sam Stratton told the crowd Kennedy would carry Amsterdam by a wide margin. The candidate was introduced by county Commissioner of Welfare Sasen Hage.

Kennedy was on a road trip from Schenectady to a dinner at Syracuse University. He also stopped in Canajoharie, where he shook hands with mill workers. More than 100 students were excused from study halls to attend. One heckler made remarks on the carpetbagger issue; Kennedy was a Massachusetts resident living in Virginia when he announced his New York U.S. Senate run.

Kennedy won the 1964 Senate election by 700,000 votes statewide and took Montgomery County by 3,000 votes. President Johnson took New York by 2.6 million votes and won Montgomery County over Barry Goldwater by 10,000 votes.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

 
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