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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview
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elements of the Establishment, most notoriously the New York Times, which fired its editorial anti-PR salvo as early as April 2, 1947. The Times' call for abolishing PR was crucial, according to contemporary observers. Had it stood firm, PR would probably have won again, though with a reduced margin. The Times' arguments, reflecting its fundamental class bias, were couched in somewhat more elegant language than that employed in the Daily News or the Hearst press but were essentially based on red-baiting. Election of Communists Cacchione and Davis was proof enough for the Times of the inherent wickedness of PR.

In vain did the good government forces plead with the Times. George Hallett, veteran director of the Citizens Union and grandpappy of PR in New York, sought to reason with the Times in a long letter ( April 14, 1947) to the editor. He pointed out that in the old Board of Aldermen in 1931 the Democrats had 64 seats and the Republicans I lone seat; the Democrats polled only 65 percent of the vote but took 98.5 percent of the seats. The other 35 percent of the voters -- Republicans, Socialists and Communists -- got only 1 seat.

On the issue of the Communists elected in 1945, Hallet demonstrated that the Communists had representation in the City Council in almost exact proportion to the votes they had received. The Communists, Hallett wrote, got a total of 138,498 votes, or 8.2 percent of the votes cast for council, and held 8.7 percent of the seats. You couldn't get much closer than that if one was interested in genuine representation.

But the Times wasn't interested in fair representation. It was pursuing cold war policies, whooping it up for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and, locally, for killing PR. It ran a series of venomous anti-PR editorials in the closing days of the campaign, October 27-30, basing them largely on material lifted from Hermens' book. On the last day it actually cited the book.

Foes of PR dredged up a variety of weird arguments. Some played the anti-Fascist side of the street and even invoked antiwar sentiments. Councilman Walter Hart in a public debate "asserted quite soberly that if it had not been for PR, World War II would never have started. He regards it as responsible for the success of both Hitler and Mussolini." (Letter from Councilman Stanley M. Isaacs to the author, October 9, 1947.)

However, the chief stock in trade of the PR-killers was the Red Menace. Billboards, ostensibly financed by the Citizens Committee to Repeal Proportional Representation, shrieked "Beat Communism --

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