Supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. march in the World's Shortest Parade in Aptos on July 4.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Community Voices

I helped on Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign: RFK Junior is not getting my vote

It’s been 55 years since Bobby Kennedy’s exuberant presidential primary win in California, followed shortly by his tragic murder. Now, his son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer who has taken a hard stance against vaccines, has announced his own candidacy for the 2024 election. Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach worked on RFK’s 1968 campaign and went to San Francisco to greet him when he came to California. She says it’s “tempting” to imagine another Kennedy in the White House. But not this one. “Unfortunately when it comes to vaccines, Kennedy is not on the side of science.”

Ironically, I was on my way to get my first shingles vaccine down at the Rite Aid in Aptos when I passed a car, parked in my neighborhood, with a large sign on it in support of Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s. run for president in 2024. He announced his run in April.

Oh, how tempting it is to imagine another Kennedy in the oval office.

However this Kennedy – well known for his antivax beliefs – is a far cry from his uncle and father.

Claudia Sternbach

And, as we celebrate our freedom with flags and fireworks this week, it is good to remember what we are free to do in this country. We have the freedom to protect ourselves as well as our children from diseases which in the past might have killed us.

JFK – uncle to the current candidate Bobby Jr. – is the first president I actually was aware of.

He and Jackie and their adorable children represented to me all that a perfect family should be. My own family, lacking a father, seemed to pale in comparison. My mother adored him and thought Jackie was the epitome of fashion and good taste. And since in the 1960s there was no social media and the press seemed hesitant to show any cracks in the family foundation, we believed deeply in the whole Camelot fairytale.

It would be years before I heard about the president skinny dipping in the White House swimming pool with curvaceous young women and the Kennedy men whispering sweet nothings into Marilyn’s ear. Allegedly.

And who knows. Perhaps Jackie had her own personal adventures. Elvis? Einstein? It is enjoyable to contemplate.

But I digress.

I can still recall hearing the news of JFK’s murder in Texas while in my junior high math class and wondering if the world would end. I could not fathom what would happen next.

And I recall a few days later spending the afternoon at a friend’s watching the funeral. We all, a bunch of teenage girls, wept. Poor Jackie in her black veil. Poor John John with his salute. Poor Caroline, now a fatherless child.

A few years later, as a high school student, I got involved in the 1968 political campaign of Bobby Kennedy. I, along with a few other students including the student body president, were invited to be part of a large group welcoming the younger Kennedy brother at the San Francisco airport. I did not get to shake his hand, but did get a glimpse of his grand, toothy smile.

I still remember it vividly.

He also spoke in San Jose, where a large group from Santa Cruz organized to go.

I can conjure the excitement when Bobby won the California primary on June 4, 1968, with 46% of the vote.

Robert F. Kennedy
(Creative Commons)

And then, the very next day, just after his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he, too, was gone. At 42. With his wife Ethel pregnant with their 11th child.

I had stayed up late watching as the results. And, when I woke in the morning, my mother broke the news. He was no more.

Politics, I then discovered, could break your heart.

Robert Kennedy was shot after winning the 1968 presidential primary.
Robert Kennedy was shot after winning the 1968 presidential primary.
(Los Angeles Times)

Republican Richard Nixon went on to win that election, and of course, the presidency. He won Santa Cruz County, too, with 50.79% of the vote. He’s the last Republican to win a majority in our county.

Cut to now.

An actual Kennedy running once again for president of the United States. It is so tempting to think that we could reclaim some of those shiny days which in fact weren’t all that shiny.

I mean, here we have a candidate with a direct link to those supposedly Golden Days. An environmentalist who cares about saving our fragile planet. And after all of our wildfires here in Santa Cruz County over the past few years and then the massive flooding this past winter in Pajaro, our broken piers, our rising sea levels, we could use someone who has a passion for Earth.

But, unfortunately when it comes to vaccines, Kennedy is not on the side of science.

No matter that many of his beliefs have been proven wrong, he still is out preaching on the subject. Just a year ago, he held a rally in Menlo Park, not all that far from where his father spoke in San Jose back in March of 1968.

RFK Jr. was there to raise awareness for his organization Children’s Health Defense. The event was attended by hundreds of curious supporters, many of whom believe in his anti-vax stance. That is worrisome to say the least.

His super PAC has direct links to MAGA folks such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, George Santos and Herschel Walker. That should give everyone pause.

Former FOX News (is it really news?), anchor Tucker Carlson sent out a tweet on June 22.“Bobby Kennedy is winning,” and went on to praise the candidate as “curious,” and someone who “pays attention to the world around him.”


This is not to say that I am a fan of Big Pharma, but I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bath water.

We have learned that in many cases we have been played by folks like the Sacklers, who made billions getting people addicted to opioids. But that is apples to oranges when it comes to looking at what vaccines do for the human race. All one has to do is examine the stats.

In our most recent pandemic, countries which had access to the newly developed vaccines had fewer deaths than those which did not. Back in those old golden Kennedy days, we lined up at school to be vaccinated against polio. I happily get my flu shot every year.

When my daughter was a student at Santa Cruz Montessori, proof of having been vaccinated against illnesses such as whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella was required. It still is in most schools. I was comforted by that. Grateful that we don’t live in the Dark Ages before vaccines had been developed to prevent these sometimes fatal diseases.

I was thrilled to be able to get vaccinated for Covid at Harbor High when the vaccine became available. So were my friends.

We all knew it gave us a shot (literally) at avoiding a disease which was killing hundreds of people every day. And thanks to that scientific breakthrough, many people survived.


My arm is sore today from my latest vaccine. But, shingles, I hear, is much more painful.

I can deal with a tender muscle and a small rash. It’s a small price to pay. And as I take my daily walk down at Seacliff Beach I’m secure thinking I will likely never get shingles – or at the very least if I do it will be a mild case.

In a few months when I get the second dose, I will happily pop on down to Aptos Rite Aid and roll up my sleeve.

Oh, Robert. I am not on the side of government mandating vaccines.

I believe everyone may decide for themselves. But that comes with consequences.

If you are not vaccinated, yes, indeed, your activities may be to protect the general public. And that is how it should be.

Having vaccine skepticism at the center of your campaign message is just stupid.

It means now, even as a lifelong Democrat who grew up adoring your family, I will not give you my vote. Frankly, you don’t even have my respect.