Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 912, Folder: "Amsterdam, New York, 29 September 1960"
SENATOR KENNEDY: Mayor Wagner, Governor Harriman, Mr. Prendergast, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Stratton, ladies and gentlemen: I want to express my thanks to all of you for being kind enough to come here during your lunch hour. I particularly am glad to be here - and during my lunch hour - (laughter) - I am particularly glad to be here with your distinguished Congressman, Frank Stratton, who fought for this district and who fights for the United States. (Applause)
Amsterdam, New York and Boston, Massachusetts, have many things in common. They are among the oldest cities of the United States, and like all old cities, they meet the same problems which come with maturity, with age. Our responsibility, those of us who live in the urban centers of the United States, is to try to rebuild our cities and their economies so that they can serve as a place of vitality in the economic life of the United States. We are an old section of the United States, you who live along the Mohawk River or along the ocean in Massachusetts. Senator Green, who represents Rhode Island in the United States Senate, was 12 years old when General Custer was slain in Montana. That is how young America is. That is how young the west is. That is how old we are. If we are going to maintain our economic position. If we are going to prevent our factories from leaving us for other sections of the United States, sections which have great natural resources, which have iron, gas and oil underground, and coal - we have no natural resources in the soil of the northeast United States - the only resources we have is the skill of our people - I believe it is incumbent upon the next President of the United States and the next administration to join together with those who fight for the rebuilding of the American economy, especially in those areas which have been hard hit, and Amsterdam, New York is one of them. Lawrence, Massachusetts, is another. And the reason is the same in both cases. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we lost our cotton and worsted textiles, in Amsterdam you lost carpets and some textiles. They moved to other sections of the United States.
How are we going to maintain our employment? Part of it requires, of course, local effort. We have rebuilt Lawrence, Massachusetts, partly by bringing Raytheon in there, partly by concentrating on electronics, and partly by using the skills of universities and colleges for new research work. So part of it requires a local effort and part of it requires a national effort.
I believe the next President of the United States should sign the following bills, and if I am elected I will do so:
1. The area distress bill, a bill which put the credit and power and vigor of the economy of the Federal Government in those areas where unemployment is higher than 7 or 8 percent for a long period of time. In other words , the Federal Government will loan its credit to businesses that wish to come to areas such as this, will provide vocational retraining for older workers, provide supplemental unemployment compensation benefits for those who are out of work for a long time, will aid in cleansing the rivers, will aid in trying to bring new industry into this area. We will, if we pass Defense Manpower Policy No. 4 again, steer defense contracts into those areas with a high level of unemployment.
2. I think the President of the United States and the administration and the government and the state government and the city should join together in cleaning our polluted rivers. They are a great national asset. But if you are going to bring industry in here which is going to use fresh, clean water, they can't use the river as it is today. The administration vetoed the distressed area bill; they have vetoed the polluted river bill last year. Our rivers belong to the people who live along them and belong to the people who come after us. I live on the most polluted river in the United States, the most polluted river in the world west of the Ganges. The Potomac in Washington, the Potomac River in Washington. But these rivers in the New York are not so clean and we have to do a better job of maintaining next, if you please, his graduat [sic] them if you are going to bring industry in that needs fresh water.
Third, I think this administration should pass a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour. (Applause) the Vice President of the United States on Monday night's television show said that the $1.25 an hour was extreme, $1.25 an hour being $50 a week. You will get that under the bill which was considered extreme in 1962. What is extreme about that? I want somebody in the Senate or House to live on $1.25 at a time when the Bureau of Labor Statistics says a single woman to even survive in an urban center of the United States, it costs her $52 a week. Yet the average wage for a laundry woman in five large cities of the United States is 64 cents an hour for a 48 hour week.
I believe in $1.25 minimum wage, and I think the next Congress should pass it. (Applause)
And finally, I believe in a program of urban renewal for our cities and particularly our older cities. I am concerned about these cities of the United States because I think the problems that urban centers have faced such as Amsterdam and my own city, are really one of the undiscussed problems that face the United States today. Housing, transportation, water, fresh air, space, schools, libraries, hospitals - these are all public resources, public facilities, which are essential to the development of an orderly society. And I think the Democratic Party looks ahead. I come here as a Democrat. Mr. Nixon says it doesn't really make much difference which party you belong to. I am not going to let him run away from the Republican record on social security, minimum wage, housing, civil rights, and the rest. (Applause)
I think it makes a difference what party you belong to. Grover Cleveland, a President said "What good is a politician unless he stands for something, and what good is a political party unless it stands for something."
If I were a Republican, I would admit it; I would run on that record and let the people make their choices between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, not saying it does not make any difference. I think it does. (Applause)
The Bible tells us, "By their fruits you shall know them." And they know the Democrats and they know the Republicans and on November 8, I think the American people are going to say yes to the next ten years, are going to look ahead, are going to do in our time what they did in the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, say yes, say we can do better, say we must move ahead. (Applause)
So I come here today and ask your help. I think we all should try to register and vote. Franklin Roosevelt said some years ago, "What good is the right of free speech for a man who does not say anything? What good is the right to go to church if you don't practice a religion? What is the good of the right to vote if you don't register and vote?"
We have these freedoms and I think this is the time we should use the freedom, the right of free choice, and strike a blow for this country and the cause of freedom, strike the blow for a stronger and more powerful America, strike a blow for the future of this country. Thank you. (Applause)