The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College has a newly named staircase, dedicated in honor of Robert M. Morgenthau, who served as Manhattan’s District Attorney for 35 years. The staircase, which was officially consecrated in a ceremony led by President Jennifer J. Raab on November 1, 2018, celebrates Morgenthau’s special connection with the Roosevelt family and with Roosevelt House. “It was not so very long ago that we awarded Bob an honorary degree here, and decided that the Morgenthau name – which is joined forever in American history to that of the Roosevelts – should be a permanent part of this house,” said President Raab.
Morgenthau met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as a child at neighborhood clambakes hosted by his father, Henry. The families became close, and Henry and Franklin’s remarkable careers grew together. Henry Morgenthau Jr. served as Secretary of Treasury in FDR’s administration, helping to shape the New Deal and the creation of vital programs like Social Security, though the two men often joked about founding a restaurant together if their political careers ever went south.
When FDR made the radio announcement of his third-term presidential victory, he did so with his friend Henry Morgenthau and “his young son Bob” by his side. Bob, as Morgenthau is known to his friends, had just cast his first ballot in a presidential election, but would go on to have an auspicious public career of his own. Morgenthau founded the Amherst College Political Union as an undergraduate, enlisted in the US Navy upon graduation, and fought valiantly in WWII. He earned a law degree at Yale and was appointed by President Kennedy to the position of United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. When he successfully ran for District Attorney of New York County in 1974, his victory ushered in an era of rigorously prosecuted white-collar crime and a drastic reduction in homicide rates.
In 2010, Hunter awarded Bob Morgenthau an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, celebrating his nearly 50 years of public service. The ceremony took place in Roosevelt House, which had recently re-opened as a public policy institute, and Morgenthau gifted a series of Roosevelt and Morgenthau family photographs for display at Roosevelt House to commemorate the occasion. Now, with the Morgenthau Staircase, his presence in the house – and his legacy of connection with the Roosevelts – is permanently preserved. Morgenthau wore a special pair of cufflinks for the occasion – gifted to his father by President Roosevelt after the 1940 Presidential election, they are inscribed with the initials HM on one side and FDR on the other.
Joining Morgenthau at the ceremony were his wife Lucinda, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, and an assembled group of friends, colleagues, and admirers, including Roosevelt House Director Harold Holzer and Hunter Board Foundation Robie Spector, both of whom supported and spearheaded the historic event. Cyrus Vance, who currently holds the Manhattan DA position long-occupied by Morgenthau, offered words of congratulations to his former boss and mentor. The next generation of lawmakers was represented by current Hunter student Francesca Royal, a top achiever in the Pre-Law Program and a Roosevelt Scholar who hopes to follow in Morgenthau’s esteemed footsteps.
“As we dedicate this part of Roosevelt House to him,” President Raab said, “we celebrate not only Bob Morgenthau, the man, but also Bob Morgenthau, the paragon of public service.”