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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

hold elective office in New York State, died suddenly yesterday of a heart attack," ran the account. "His death came only two days after the people of the city had voted to abolish the system of proportional representation, under which Mr. Cacchione was three times elected to the City Council from Brooklyn." ( November 7, 1947.)

It is, of course, idle to speculate at this point, many years later. True, Pete had long been under medical care for a serious heart condition; somehow he had managed to survive the shocks and trauma of the struggle. There were those, in fact, who insisted that Pete thrived on his daily political regimen. Take it away from him and he would waste, they said.

But the defeat of PR was something special. Pete had long meditated on politics from a working-class viewpoint and had given deep thought to the problems posed by capitalist democracy. He knew its sham character better than most. That was why he had developed a special passion for PR. For him PR was not just another electoral method; it was a crucial democratic advance. Without PR, Pete felt, labor, Blacks, Hispanics and minority parties were almost weaponless in local politics. For Pete, therefore, the results of Election Day, November 4, 1947, could well have been the final blow. Scientifically correct or not, that was the conviction of those who knew Pete intimately. We were certain that the men who killed PR had speeded Pete's death at age fifty.

Pete's funeral was a day of civic mourning. Twelve thousand people turned out on that cool crisp November Sunday, two thousand jamming Livingston Manor in downtown Brooklyn while ten thousand others choked the streets outside to hear the services over loudspeakers. Many had waited for hours to file slowly past the open bier, some dabbing their eyes, others pausing to cross themselves. "From 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. people of all races, creeds and political beliefs were lined a block away on Schermerhorn Street, waiting in the chill November wind to pay their respects to New York's first Communist councilman," the Daily Worker reported the next day ( November 10, 1947).

They were trade unionists, rank and filers and leaders, community activists, Black, white and Puerto Rican, and just neighbors. They were longshoremen, electricians, garment workers, clerks and artists, the plain people for whom Pete was no distant figure but their own flesh and blood. "He was so much a part of his people, the working people, that nothing could touch them without touching him," Robert Thompson,

-192-

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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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