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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widely regarded as an organ of the borough's banks, big real-estate interests, department stores, dominant political machines and reactionary clerics. It never forgave the Newspaper Guild for its strike of 1937 and Pete for walking the picket line with the strikers. Its racism was hardly concealed. Back in 1919, after an eruption in Washington, D.C., the Eagle carried the headline: RACE WAR IN WASHINGTON SHOWS BLACK AND WHITE EQUALITY NOT PRACTICAL.

A friendly biographer of the Eagle, Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., ( The Eagle and Brooklyn, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1974), wrote: "The Eagle blamed the riot on the full employment, high wages, and increasing independence that Washington Negroes had won from the war." One of the Eagle publishers visited Nazi Germany in 1936 and returned to the United States singing the praises of Hitler, according to The Eagle Eye, a monthly newspaper published by Communist workers at the Brooklyn Eagle. The charge was never rebutted.

Hearst's Journal-American and the Daily News followed the Eagle's lead. The New York Post quavered a bit yet did not join the fury. But the lordly New York Times, the nation's most influential paper, weaseled. It was a harbinger of its 1947 reversal when it threw itself violently into the campaign to abolish PR.

It was the usual Times technique, soothing the reader with an on-the- one-hand-and-on-the-other "balanced" approach before plunging the knife. "In the election of the new City Council," the editorial began calmly enough, "proportional representation did not achieve a brilliant success. Tammany and its allied organizations in this city have several times tried...to get rid of it; but they have nevertheless learned to use it for their purposes far better than have their opponents."

So far so good, an unwary reader might think. But Tammany wasn't the real target. That came in the next paragraph:

Nor was it an accident that a Communist was elected to the Council by P.R., or that it was from Brooklyn that P.R. elected him. For a Communist to win he needed only one-ninth of the total vote, or even slightly less....

Here one might interrupt to ask, if Pete needed only one­ninth of the total wasn't the same thing true of the Democrats and others elected in Brooklyn? The editorial conceded that PR is "representative," but then went into reverse, charging that PR is "divisive in its effect; it emphasizes and aggravates differences and groups instead of helping to reconcile them. It elects Communists, Fascists and other extremists who

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