As seen in the presidential visits series, Rochester has not seen a sitting president campaign here since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Early in his term, in 1989 President George H.W. Bush spent the day at Wilson Magnet High School. In 2005, his son, President George W. Bush, discussed social security in Greece and, in 2006, spoke at Canandaigua High School and met local autistic basketball hero Jason McElwain. In August 2012, President Barack Obama had a quick lunch at Magnolia’s on Park Avenue.
But the Bushes and Obama’s visits were not full-fledged campaign rallies. No doubt the 30 year plus campaign drought is due to both New York’s steady loss of electoral votes and, since Reagan, its reliable status as a solid blue state.
So when asking my fellow voters at the Brookside School in Brighton what presidential rallies they still remembered, I wasn’t surprised details were fuzzy and often nonexistent. When shown a list of the visits, most people had no sharp recollections. A few did have some clear memories.
One man’s man memory ran back the furthest. He was at the train station in 1948 when Truman made a whistle stops at the New York Central Railroad Station. In 1948, the man had just moved to Rochester for his first job (Kodak) after getting out of the service.
Maria Ernest immediately mentioned Ike in 1952 when she was 11. Her father had served in WWII working in the mess hall of a POW camps in Alaska and British Columbia. He revered General Eisenhower and cheered Ike strongly in his two big victories in 1952 and 1956. But that day when Ike was also at the train station, her father wouldn’t let Maria go. He thought it would be too crowded (and it was crowded) and unsafe for Maria at only 11.
At 21 years old, today was Kenna Malone’s (pictured above) first presidential election. She was in high school when Obama had that grilled cheese and soup at Magnolia’s.
Of those I spoke with, Denny Peel remembered well Kennedy and Nixon’s visits in 1960. Denny graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Rochester. So he was there when former Vice President Nixon gave the June 1966 commencement address.
At the speech, Denny recalls UR President W. Alen Wallis comment lightly something to the effect that Nixon should have avoided his televised debate with Kennedy in 1960. Nixon, replied, dryly and sighing: indeed yes, Alen, and that’s why were both here today at the University of Rochester.
Denny did not mention any controversy concerning Nixon’s commencement address. But, in the archives, I learned anew how often Nixon’s was a flashpoint of controversy.
Earlier in 1966, Nixon had called for the dismissal of a Rutgers professor who had spoken out against the Vietnam War. Later in the year, UR announced that Nixon was invited to be the graduation commencement speaker and receive an honorary doctoral degree. In response, a group of UR faculty members passed a resolution protesting the decision to grant the degree.
What followed was a flurry of forums, students votes, opinions by the D & C editorial board criticizing the faculty, “‘Reverse Logic'” and “More ‘Nixon’ Noise,” and letters to the editors for and against the faulty resolution. The D & C also ran, “He’d Take Nixon’s Degree.” GOP 1964 primary candidate Marvin Kittman, who called himself a Lincoln Republican to the right of Barry Goldwater and came in dead last in the New Hampshire primary, gladly offered to accept the degree and speak in Nixon’s place.
In mid-April Nixon clarified that his policy was not to accept honorary degrees but that he would gladly give the graduation address. According to the D & C, there were no demonstrations or picketing at the commencement.
Poll worker Ethan remembered seeing Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the Rochester airport during Humphrey’s 1968 campaign against Nixon. Calling himself politically precocious as a teenager, Ethan was thrilled when he and his family saw Humphrey speak in an airport hangar. At the same time, Ethan had supported Humphrey’s staunchly anti-war opponent Eugene McCarthy.
In November 1968, Humphrey lost a very close election to Nixon. Al Gore later joined Humphrey as a two term vice president who lost his succeeding presidential bid. Two term VP Nixon also lost to Kennedy in 1960, but rebounded against Humphrey in 1968 and then again against McGovern in 1972.
A few weeks after the election, Humphrey — looking tan, fit if not unburdened — went pheasant hunting in Mendon with millionaire Rochester real estate developer, James Wilmot.
24 years later, Ethan also met Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown at a forum in the Village Gate.
In 1976, one woman volunteered for Jimmy Carter’s campaign. She backed Carter because Midge Costanza — who she greatly admired — organized Carter’s local campaign. She met Carter at his Rochester rally. Another man remembers waving at Carter during his downtown motorcade.
In 1984, another woman was working at the Chase Manhattan bank in Midtown Plaza. She remembers when VP George Bush’ wife, Barbara attended a GOP luncheon fundraiser in the plaza. The woman recalls all the plaza workers gathering to see Mrs. Bush.
I told woman the story how Mrs. Bush had called Democratic VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro a word ending in “itch.” Some speculated that Mrs. Bush was implying “bitch” or “witch.” At the luncheon, Bush reiterated that she would never call Ferraro a witch. The woman believed Mrs. Bush.
To my surprise, Brighton Councilman Jim Vogel (who you met at the Brighton Little League Parade) had missed all the presidential visits. Looking at the list, Jim recalled he had been out of town for each. Jim was at both Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965. In 1960, Jim lived in Ohio and in the navy. He had been assigned to Kennedy’s inauguration as a kind of liaison representing Ohio.
Jim remembers sitting near entertainer Eddie Albert and very close to the podium where Kennedy spoke. Jim also said it was unusually cold for Washington, D.C, somewhere between ten and twenty degrees. According to wikipedia, a strong nor’easter fell the day before the inauguration with temperatures at 20 °F (−7 °C) and snowfall at 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) per hour and a total of 8 inches (20 cm) during the night.
UPDATE: I just received this from Brighton’s Rajesh Barnabas, former Green Party candidate for Monroe County Executive. After today’s election, we might need some justice.
I just wrote you in for Town Justice… David Kramer Town Justice, has a nice ring to it…