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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

ketplace grew Pete's conviction that two things were crucial to the men and women -- and particularly Communists -- who sought to persuade their countrymen: what they said, and how they said it. Indeed, Pete fought not only for the right to speak but for the duty to speak well.

Methodical in all things, Pete was a demon for preparation for public speaking. He regarded stumping as an ancient, honorable and democratic art, a tradition carried on from the New England town meeting through the village green, the candidate's front porch, down to the chromed microphone. He saw it as an art at once as old as the handclasp of friendship and as modern as stainless steel.

Because Pete respected people and, above all, the plain people, the working people, the so-called little people, he was death on slovenliness, both in appearance and speech. He prepared as meticulously for a kaffee klatch in a neighbor's living room as for a speech before a municipal body. No split between form and content for Pete. He spoke with the same zeal and care from a ladder platform at a factory gate as in the staid City Council chamber.

Busy as he was in the City Council in his first term, he insisted on conveying to the movement his thoughts on reaching people. Somehow he found the time to write a pamphlet on the subject. A collector's item now, the little booklet may be considered artless or dated by modern sophisticates, but a thoughtful reader perusing its thirty-two pages, brilliantly illustrated by some anonymous cartoonist, will draw a different conclusion. It was widely popular in its time and is no period piece even today. (See Public Speaking, A Speaker's Guidebook by Peter V. Cacchione , Workers Library Publishers, New York, 1942.)

"Speaking," Pete wrote, "is nothing more than conversation -- only on a larger scale. Instead of conversing with one person, you are conversing with a group."

This may be hardly novel, but the tone is significant. Pete was addressing himself to thousands of "little people," men and women in local unions, shop and community gatherings who had something to say and frequently were fearful of their ability to say it. His was the advice of a plain man who had mastered the art form and sought to encourage others to do likewise. "Public speaking," he wrote, "is an art acquired through experience, like the art of playing music, singing, or painting. Good speakers are not born. Every public speaker has to start at the same level. A public speaker always strives to improve himself or herself."

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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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