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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

city and, in fact, something of a celebrity, the first to win city office as "an avowed Communist," to use the New York Times' arch phrase.

There was an undercurrent of tension in the ancient oak-paneled chamber as news photographers snapped pictures endlessly and reporters waited hopefully for some explosive copy. Quinn's threat to bar Pete had fizzled out-the cagey Democratic council leaders had effectively throttled the Queens loudmouth-but would there be some fireworks anyway? Pete waited calmly; and back in the visitors' seats, Dorothy, a new corsage on her dress and surrounded by a delegation of Pete's supporters, beamed.

There was one incident and that one almost unnoticed. It occurred after Council President Newbold Morris called the session to order with a sharp crack of the gavel and introduced the Rev. John P. Boland, chairman of the State Labor Relations Board and pastor of the St. Columbia's Church in Manhattan, to deliver the invocation. Pete rose with the rest, his head bowed. As Father Boland concluded his call for divine guidance for the Council" in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost," Councilman Quinn peeked over his shoulder to see whether the Communist councilman would cross himself. ( Pete didn't.) Quinn looked away hurriedly and few in the chamber caught the stealthy glance.

The incident should have taught Quinn something. Pete had a deep respect for the religious beliefs of his parents, friends and neighbors, but for himself, he always said, he was no hypocrite. Told later of Quinn's sneaky peek, Pete was mildly amused. Brought up in the Catholic faith, he explained, he was no longer a believer and would not pretend otherwise, even if it might be politically expedient to do so. He was a Marxist; his whole world outlook was based on scientific materialism, and while he would defend every person's right to worship as he or she pleased, he would not masquerade as a churchgoer. He and Dorothy, who was of Jewish descent, had been married in a civil ceremony.

But none of this was on Pete's mind as he followed every procedural detail at that first session. He absorbed it all and began to think of what was primary to him: how would he relate the business of the Council to the working people of Brooklyn?

He had already rented an office and anteroom at 26 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, a location easily accessible from all parts of the borough. Office workers and a legislative assistant, Don Schoolman,

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