Letters to the Editor, Feb. 26

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Remembering JFK’s magical effect on crowd

Dear T&V,

Thank you for publishing that picture of the John F. Kennedy rally (from the Nov. 3, 1960 issue).

I was standing 20-30 feet directly in front of him in the densely packed crowd, and there, standing right there, was the handsomest human anyone had ever seen in person. The partially angled sun was streaming through his crown of glorious hair, the color of which was a glowing rose gold. He was so handsome that it was breathtaking. To this day, I have yet to see any picture or image that looked as good as the man I saw that day. Charisma emanated off of him in waves like he was exhaling it to the entire crowd.

I don’t remember a word he said, and I doubt anyone there ever did. He truly could have been reading from the phone book for all that it mattered.

This was magic incarnate!

It is no discredit that the black and white photo you printed didn’t really capture what that day really looked like — I’m not sure any picture could, but it did rekindle very deep memories of that day in 1960. It took me back to a really magical experience. I wish everyone could have been there that day.

He cut an imposing figure, the like of which I’ve never seen since in politics. It set the mold for Democrats seeking high-ranking public office should look like and try to emulate the kind of charm that’s needed. Only Bill Clinton captured it somewhat successfully.

It was written in the history/sociology/political books that JFK was selected by a coalition of Democrat/Catholic/Jewish and Labor voters, which is partially true. What was said and what was apparent at the time of the election was that the vote that won him the presidency was the female vote. Look at the man. Look at the picture of Nixon circa 1960 and then one of JFK smiling and you’ll see why women (and men) voted for him. He looked like the man you wanted representing America to the world and to America itself. It was obvious then, but no longer mentioned.

Richard Luksin,
Minneapolis, MN

Continue reading

David Axelrod, former Obama adviser and Stuy Town native, releases memoir

President Barack Obama (right) with David Axelrod (second to left) and others in the Oval Office (Photo by Pete Souza/ White House)

President Barack Obama (right) with David Axelrod (second to left) and others in the Oval Office (Photo by Pete Souza/ White House)

By Sabina Mollot

David Axelrod, the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who’d also helped strategize campaigns for him and a slew of other elected officials, and who worked as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, has recently written a book about his professional experiences. The Stuyvesant Town native, whose introduction to the world of politics began with a historic visit from then-Senator John F. Kennedy to the street where he lived, has called the memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics ($35, Penguin). While in the midst of a multi-state media tour, Axelrod, now the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, discussed his book, his background and his career with Town & Village.

What was growing up in Stuyvesant Town like for you?

I grew up reading your newspaper. It was a great experience. It was a different kind of community than it is now. It was pretty modest. A lot of World War II veterans and families, and it was really an oasis in the city. We all got together in the playground. I’m still friends with a lot of people I grew up with. Some of them came to my book event in New York and some of them are coming to my event in Boston. Back then there was a real sense of community in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper. The people you grew up with you stuck with from nursery to high school and ultimately through life. I have a great association with Stuyvesant Town and growing up there.

I was just there a week ago to film a piece for CBS about my book. We walked on 20th. My first address was 622 East 20th Street. We talked about the day in 1960 when JFK came and campaigned in Stuyvesant Town. I was noticing the change in the community, all the high end kind of stores and air conditioners in every window, because we didn’t have that back then. It looked like a very upgraded version of what I remember. When we lived at 622, my parents were mostly still married, but they did split up when I was eight. Then my mom and I moved to 15 Stuyvesant Oval. My mother was a writer and worked in advertising and my father was a psychologist. I had an older sister, Joan. At 622, it was a two-bedroom, so Joan and I shared a bedroom with a wooden divider.

As you know, Stuyvesant Town apartments are small, small kitchens, small bathrooms. By today’s standards, the apartments were very modest, but it seemed comfortable to me. My parents got divorced when I was 13 and my mom and I went to live at 15 Stuyvesant Oval. My sister was gone by then. My mom moved in 1948 and moved out in 2006 to an assisted living facility in Massachusetts. She died last year. (Axelrod’s father committed suicide in 1977.)

There was a lot of activity and my group was the Playground 10 group. There were parts of Stuyvesant Town that were predominantly Jewish and parts of Stuyvesant Town that were predominantly Catholic and parts that were predominantly Protestant, and the playgrounds roughly followed those ethnic divisions. Like Playground 9 was where the Catholic kids hung out. There were very few minorities back then.

I went to PS 40 and Junior High School 104 and Stuyvesant High School when it was still on 16th Street. In my day they were excellent public schools. I still have a teacher in my head who played a formative role in my life. It was at PS 40 and her name was Lee Roth. She brought poets to our classroom, well-known poets of the day, like Ogden Nash. In the classroom, she would engage us in discussions on current events. It really enriched my life and I feel a debt of gratitude to all the people like her.

JFK crowd at 1st ave

When JFK came to Stuyvesant Town in 1960, David Axelrod was in attendance. This photo, originally published in Town & Village, also appears in his book.

Continue reading