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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

Pete, Ben and the Party had done some agonizing reappraising of their positions in 1945. The Communist Party, under Earl Browder's leadership, had virtually liquidated itself as a party and even changed its name to Communist Political Association. Browder had preached a doctrine that was essentially that of class peace and had the Communist movement tamely tailing after the old parties in the postwar world. He saw a world in which U.S. capital would help develop the underdeveloped countries, create prosperity at home, and thereby enter into a partnership with labor, making strikes unnecessary.

That, of course, was not the real world, and the Communists in the summer of 1945 rejected Browder's outlook, resuming both the name of the Communist Party and class struggle policies. It was a period of intense self-examination by the Communist Party and for Pete and Ben a time of review of their policies in the City Council. Had they always acted as the people's tribunes?

Long self-critical discussions ensued. By and large, the two Communist councilmen concluded, they had been essentially correct in their policies during the war period. But they agreed that they had made a number of mistakes, primarily by not holding firmly to their principled positions on certain questions even at the risk of temporary isolation. There were at least three outstanding errors, they felt. One was their reluctant vote in 1944 to renew the one percent sales tax; the second was to extend the term of City Council members from two to four years; and the third was to vote for an antidiscrimination housing bill that did not specifically ban discrimination in Stuyvesant Town, the huge complex built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Obviously, their 1944 vote to renew the sales tax was very much on Pete's mind in 1946 when he resisted O'Dwyer's proposal to increase it. Pete, who by agreement with Ben Davis on division of labor, was the team's specialist on city finances and knew intimately the history of the sales tax. He recalled that it was a direct outgrowth of the notorious Bankers Agreement of 1933 signed by then Mayor John O'Brien, a hapless Tammany hack, and a group of the city's most powerful institutions.

Under the Agreement with the Committee of Banks -- whose agent was J.P. Morgan & Co. -- the city was to issue ten-year serial bonds at 4 percent interest to the amount of $70 million to be used for work relief and home relief for the unemployed. The banks were to underwrite the issue, that is, to buy and market the bonds. But -- and this was a crucial

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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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