Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

7
Tammany Handles Relief

PETE wasn't naive about public scandals. He'd been around. Payoffs and fixers were part of the system. He'd seen that in Las Vegas and even back home in Sayre. He knew that some cops took bribes for"protection" and building inspectors got "gifts" to overlook construction defects and health officers' palms were greased by restaurant owners who violated the sanitary code.

But he also knew that it went beyond small-scale handouts to corrupt petty officials. He had read of the robber barons and as an ex-railroader he had heard how the railroad magnates had bought out whole legislatures and blocs of congressmen as they pillaged their way across the nation. While his thinking on the subject deepened as he became more familiar with the intricacies of city politics, even in the early thirties he sensed that graft and corruption were integral elements of capitalist government. He may not have known the details but he understood that the big banks, insurance trusts and public utilities "took care" of the major party politicians, whether by so-called legal methods -- retainers for law firms -- or by dark-of-the-moon payoffs.

It was a jobless Pete Cacchione who had rolled into town in the wake of sensational exposures of Tammany Hall by Samuel Seabury, the famed ex-judge and investigator. Truth to tell, Pete's mind then was not on Tammany's crimes and the revelations that made banner headlines in the city's press. At that point in time, to use a phrase made familiar forty years later, Pete was more concerned with a night's lodging and his next meal.

But as he got around in the Unemployment Councils in the winter of 1932 and spring of 1933, Pete, like so many other New Yorkers, was fascinated by the story of the investigation into the doings of City Hall, crooked cops and judges. He had no love for Mayor Jimmy Walker; Pete had heard all about Walker's bluecoats brutally breaking up demonstrations of the unemployed. And he perceived something distinctly phony

-36-

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