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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

(assets $75 billion) and actively pushed by Robert Moses, City Construction Coordinator and dictator of parks, highways, bridges and scores of other projects. For Metropolitan Life it was a big deal. The city was to sell it at cost, eight blocks of Manhattan East Side property, from 14th Street to 20th Street and from First Avenue eastward to Avenue C, evicting every tenant and shopkeeper in the area. Besides that little gift the city was to give Metropolitan a substantial tax exemption for 25 years. Finally, the contract contained a stipulation that Met Life would be "limited" to a six percent annual profit on its capital investment -- which in those years was considered very good.

With Bob Moses orchestrating the authorizing legislation and brow- beating the opposition, the project went forward, to acclaim from the commercial press. Eureka! Moses and Metropolitan had found the secret of arresting urban decay and keeping the middle class in the city. They would build a suburb inside New York where white-collar people could live at relatively moderate rentals, etc., etc.

But there was one catch. White collar meant white tenants only. Frederick C. Ecker, Metropolitan's board chairman, blurted out his Jim Crow creed to a New York Post reporter after a hearing of the City Planning Commission in May, 1943. Met Life, he insisted, would maintain the same lily-white policy in Stuyvesant Town as it did in its Parkchester development in the Bronx. Said Ecker:

Negroes and whites don't mix. Perhaps they will in a hundred years, but not now. If we brought them into this development, it would be to the detriment of the city, too, because it would depress all the surrounding property. ( TheNew York Post, May 20, 1943.)

Ecker's crass racism "proved to be a bombshell that rallied opposition to the plan," one observer noted. "By June 3, the day the Board of Estimate met to hold a public hearing and to vote on Stuyvesant Town, a dramatic shift had taken place and opposition to the proposal now gathered around Metropolitan's apparent intention to exclude Negroes from the project." ( Stuyvesant Town USA, Pattern for Two Americas by Arthur Simon, New York University Press, New York, 1970.)

It was a long and bitter hearing, the opposing forces affording a preview of the struggles over racism that were to rack the nation for decades. Only Ecker and Moses carried the ball for Metropolitan Life while a wide group of civic organizations, Black and white, ranged themselves in opposition. Moses was particularly vicious, issuing a

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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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