Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan came through Presidential candidates made a point to visit Jersey City

John F. Kennedy was running for president in 1960 when he said to a Jersey City audience, “This county may well determine what the state of New Jersey does, and the 14 electoral votes…”

He was then corrected by audience members who shouted out that it was 16.

“…Sixteen electoral votes of New Jersey – this is the only audience that knows how many electoral votes they have. This must be a very politically active city. Is it?”

Kennedy got a resounding “yes” from the large crowd who had lined up to see him in Journal Square on Nov. 6, 1960, two days before he beat Republican opponent Richard Nixon by the slimmest margin in presidential election history.

The appearance was one of many in the last 100 years that were made by individuals either seeking to make the White House their home or who had already settled at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.

Some of the presidents and candidates who have visited the city include: Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Herbert Hoover in 1928, Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and in 1941, Harry Truman in 1948, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1961 (when he was out of office), Kennedy (he also came in September 1960), Ronald Reagan (as a candidate) in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1996 and in 2006 (out of office), and this past year, Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Before the 1900s, Abraham Lincoln came through Jersey City twice – once when alive in 1861 when he spoke near Exchange Place, and in 1865, when the train carrying his coffin stopped in Jersey City on the way to New York.

His successor, Andrew Johnson, came through Jersey City in 1866. Andrew Jackson had breakfast in 1833 with Jersey City builder C.D. Colden, and Martin Van Buren visited with then-mayor Dudley Gregory in 1839.

Longtime residents reminisced about these visits last week, as the Democratic National Convention came to an end in Denver and the Republican National Convention was about to start this Monday in Minneapolis/St. Paul.The presidents we saw

Matthew Amato, a columnist for the Hudson Reporter, was a student in November, 1960 at the old Ferris High School (now McNair Academic High School) when Kennedy was in town.

Amato remembers Hudson County Democratic boss John V. Kenny telling the Jersey City Board of Education to give all students in the school system time off to allow them to see Kennedy’s motorcade.

Amato saw Kennedy when his car passed through Hamilton Park.

“I saw John F. Kennedy sitting side by side with John V. Kenny in an open-air limousine in the back seat where they were above everybody,” Amato said, “And I’ll never forget one thing – he had reddish hair.”

Bob Leach, who runs the Jersey City Public Library’s Historical Project and is an author of old-time Jersey City folk stories, was an 11-year-old student at Our Lady of Victories School on Ege Avenue in 1948 when Truman was in town for a political rally staged by the legendary Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.

His appearance should have left an impression on the young Leach – but not quite.

“As he went by in a car on Montgomery Street, for some reason I expected a lot more from him,” Leach said. “But at least there were lots of fireworks.”

Leach’s older sister Marylyn, who took Bob to see Truman, also remembers seeing Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan in Jersey City during her lifetime.

“I remember people were impressed to death with Roosevelt because he was such a vital man, and we were impressed as well with Eisenhower,” said Marylyn Leach. “By the time Reagan got here, it was ho-hum.” What brought them to JC?

Longtime political consultant Tony Amabile saw Reagan when he came to Jersey City on Labor Day 1980, remembering how the Republican appealed to the strong blue-collar Democrat voting base.

Amabile said what has attracted presidents to Jersey City over the years has been a number of factors.

“This city going back to Frank Hague has always been a Democratic stronghold and a great place to present a platform,” Amabile said.

In Hudson County, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one.

Amabile added, “And in recent years, you have Liberty State Park with the backdrop of Lady Liberty – who wouldn’t want that?” Comments on this story can be sent to


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