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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview
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But few people knew the facts or took a long view in that sultry late summer of 1939. The media pulled out every anti-Communist stop. An unceasing barrage was opened up and people who never had a good word to say about the Soviet Union or U.S. Communists suddenly emerged from the woodwork to berate the Reds. Cocktail party liberals moaned into their martinis about Soviet "betrayal." Even the Left was not immune from turmoil.

It was in this atmosphere that Pete and his campaigners had to organize for the 1939 councilmanic elections. Pete and his crew, the memory of the 1937 campaign still fresh in their minds, mapped a careful course. This was going to be a winner. No last-minute steal this time. Election districts were studied carefully. Concentration points were highlighted. Organization was perfected: a big petition campaign to put Pete on the ballot and then an all-out drive right up to Election Day -- and a hawklike vigilance at the count. This was it.

Pete was by this time a well-established figure in Brooklyn. Despite the furore about the Soviet-German pact in the latter stages, the campaign for signatures on his nominating petitions was a roaring success. With only 2,000 signatures required, Pete's committee filed more than 10,000. A perfect take-off.

Except....

Except for one thing -- the old party bosses and the gentlemen in the board rooms didn't want Pete on the ballot because he surely would be elected this time, and there was no guarantee that some sleight-of-hand could again be performed in the last hours of the count. In 1937 the Tammany crowd and the GOP didn't think much of Pete's chances. Now they knew better.

Their election law sharpshooters went to work. Ah yes, Pete had the required number of signatures, far more than was needed in fact. But what was this way down at the bottom of the petition? The assembly district and election district of the witnesses were missing. Oh yes, the signatures were okay and the voters were identified by street address, assembly and election district. But the witnesses, that was another story.

With ill-concealed glee, the Board of Elections ruled the petitions invalid. Appeals to the courts proved fruitless. The Tammany and Republican judges went along happily. They had apparently gotten what Pete McGuiness, the old district leader and sage of Greenpoint used to call "the woid": Cacchione had to be knocked off the ballot. Any pretext would do in the current climate. And so they knocked Pete off, along with

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