The labor of a decade or more, James “Jim” Neff’s Vendetta details the epic nature of Bobby Kennedy’s crusade against Jimmy Hoffa, starting in 1956-57 with the Rackets Committee, also known as the McClellan Committee, also known as the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management (whew, that’s a mouthful). Endowed with control of the committee’s activities, RFK focused his efforts on the teamsters, and its leaders, including Seattle’s Dave Beck, whose ouster by committee actions would lead to the uncontested rise of Jimmy Hoffa.
Neff came to the story during his time as investigations editor of the Seattle Times, and more specifically through Beck’s connection to the place. Neff now holds a similar position for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The book depicts a man whose sense of loyalty and purpose drove him to probe and trespass the limits of the judicial standards, employing inside men and wires to gather intel that would expose the labor boss. RFK’s comeuppance would happen, but by the time it had, his brother had been shot and killed – and Neff does all but raise the question, How might labor and mob connections have been involved? Such restraint extends to considerations around the Warren Commission, of which Neff notes that what RFK didn’t say was even more meaningful than what he said.
The book is a portrait of power and those who protect and seek it. RFK was certainly the former, while JFK and Hoffa were the latter. Neff’s document-driven work resonates with our society’s ongoing need for investigative journalism, making more understandable a pivotal moment in American history, and shining light on the twisted roots of labor and politics.