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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

Occasionally, however, the Democratic majority realized that Pete had hit a vital nerve. Unable to ignore a Cacchione measure, they rewrote it slightly, gave it to one of their henchmen to introduce and, presto, it became law. Pete would chuckle at this hocus-pocus and would vote for the "revised" bill. He had no pride of authorship; "a good bill is a good bill no matter who sponsors it."

One such measure, introduced by Pete, was a bill to wipe out what he called "hate ads," those venomous little want ads that specified "white Christian only," "white Protestant only," etc. It would punish newspapers carrying such ads by barring them from getting any city and state advertising, a lucrative source of income. With a large Jewish and Black electorate -- and a war against nazism going on -- the Democrats couldn't afford to suppress it. They promptly "rewrote" Pete's bill, gave it to Councilman Walter R. Hart, a Brooklyn wheelhorse, and passed it, with Pete, of course, voting for it.

Pete was not content to play parliamentary games. He insisted, of course, on learning all the intricacies of legislation and used to the full the research of his legislative aide, Don Schoolman, and his erudite legal counsel, David M. Freedman, as well as various specialists. But above all, he understood that his fight had to be carried to the people. He knew that the fate of a specific piece of his legislation, whether it became law in his or someone else's name, depended on mass public action. And this he consistently organized.

This was basic to Pete's work in the Council and was particularly clear in his everlasting fight against racial and religious discrimination. A working man's son born into a small-town Italian Catholic family, Pete knew religious bias at first hand. He recalled vividly the rampant bigotry of the campaign against Al Smith, a Catholic, the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate. Those were the days of lurid tales of Popish plots when Ku Klux Klan crosses burned not only in Georgia but also on the hills of Pennsylvania and even in Suffolk County, New York, an hour away from Brooklyn. Pete, whose family had generally voted Republican, worked for Al Smith that year and, Pete, in fact, was vice-president of a Smith-for-President club in Sayre, Pa., carrying his ward for Smith.

The experience with the poison of anti-Catholicism never left him. Later, in the period of his activity with the Unemployment Councils and through his education within the Communist Party, he learned of the national oppression of the Black people and the virus of anti-Semitism and how all were used to keep the working people divided. It was through

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page 2
  • Pete Made a Little History 5
  • Contents 7
  • 1 - The Argument 17
  • 2 - Boyhood in Sayre, Pa. 21
  • 3 - To New York -- via Las Vegas 24
  • 4 - Pete Gets Involved 26
  • 5 - Pete Leads a Bonus March Contingent 30
  • 6 - Brooklyn Captures Pete 34
  • 7 - Tammany Handles Relief 36
  • 8 - Seabury and Chile Acuna 39
  • 9 - Tin Boxes and Red Herrings 43
  • 10 - Class Struggle and Goo-Goos 47
  • 11 - The Fiorello Phenomenon 50
  • 12 - The Labor Party is Born 56
  • 13 - Pete and PR 61
  • 14 - Pete's First Try 67
  • 15 - The '37 Mayoralty Campaign 73
  • 16 - Election Day, 1937 79
  • 17 - The '37 Count 82
  • 18 - Towards the '39 Campaign 86
  • 19 - Marcantonio: A Man to Study 90
  • 20 - War Clouds and a Write-in Vote 99
  • 21 - From Phoney War to Anti-Fascist War 103
  • 22 - Victory in '41 112
  • 23 - Why Pete Won: Reflections 113
  • 24 - The Eagle Screams 116
  • 25 - Pete's First Council Session 120
  • 26 - Fighting Fascism and Anti-Semitism 124
  • 27 - Battling Baseball's Jim Crow 129
  • 28 - On Pete's Style of Work 132
  • 29 - Prophetic Resolutions 136
  • 30 - Defender of Italian-Americans 139
  • 31 - Widening Support 142
  • 32 - Manhattan Names Ben Davis 148
  • 33 - Tackling The Eagle and O'Dwyer 151
  • 34 - Pete Tops the List 153
  • 35 - Brooklyn to the Rescue 156
  • 36 - The Team of Two 161
  • 37 - Pete Wins a Third Term 163
  • 38 - Cold War Years 166
  • 39 - Stuyvesant Town: A Close Question 169
  • 40 the Going Gets Rougher 173
  • 41 - The Cardinal and the Council 177
  • 42 - The Year of the Long Knives 182
  • 43 - PR: Cold War Casualty 187
  • 44 - A Day of Civic Mourning 192
  • 45 - The Succession Fight 196
  • 46 - Running for Pete's Seat 203
  • 47 - An Afterword 204
  • Index 211
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