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Triborough renamed for former senator RFK

Hundreds of borough residents joined a Who’s Who of New York political figures and members of the Kennedy family last week for a ceremony at which Astoria’s Triborough Bridge was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

A large banner bearing the bridge’s new name was visible from Astoria Park, where a large crowd celebrated the renaming of the bridge after the late presidential candidate and U.S. senator for New York.

Speakers at the Nov. 19 event included former President Bill Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson.

Clinton said it was ironic that the bridge’s name was being changed during the current economic crisis, considering that the structure was completed in 1936 during the Great Depression. But he said it was appropriate for the bridge, which connects the diverse neighborhoods of Astoria, the South Bronx and Harlem, to be named after Kennedy, who was a staunch defender of civil rights.

“You had no doubt when he spoke that he cared about the people whose causes he championed,” Clinton said. “He felt we have a personal responsibility to help one another. He believed we could cross any divide and overcome any adversity as long as we did it together.”

Kennedy, who served as one of New York’s senators from 1965−68, was assassinated in California on June 5, 1968, shortly after winning that state’s Democratic primary during the race for the party’s presidential nominee. He was 42.

The state Legislature voted earlier this year to rename the bridge, which was built under the direction of Robert Moses and the New Deal programs, after the senator in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of his death. The state Department of Transportation is in the process of putting up several million dollars worth of new signs for the bridge, operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Paterson said he admired Kennedy, a powerful attorney general in President John F. Kennedy’s administration, from the time he was 10 and watched the senator speak at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

“From that time on, I wanted to be like Sen. Kennedy,” the governor said. “He was always willing to stand up for justice and truth.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and one of the senator’s 11 children, said he recalled the train ride during which he and his family brought his father’s body back to New York following the assassination. He said lines of people waited at numerous train stations, holding signs that said “Goodbye, Bobby.”

He said it was fitting that the Triborough was renamed to honor his father.

“He was able to bridge so many interests in our diverse country,” he said. “We are a community in this country and New York is a paradigm.”

Other members of the political dynasty, including his widow, Ethel; niece, Caroline; and daughter, Kerry, attended the ceremony.

But not all of western Queens’ elected officials said they approved of the renaming. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D−Astoria) said he did not think millions should be spent on changing signage at the bridge at a time when the MTA was “raising fares and cutting services to the neighborhood at the foot of the bridge.”

“Robert Kennedy was a great man, but this isn’t the time,” he said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.”

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