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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

Pete was especially comfortable in Brooklyn because Dorothy was with him. They were married in May, 1937 at the Municipal Building in Manhattan, right opposite City Hall which Pete was to enter triumphantly as New York's first elected Communist Party councilman fifty-five months later. Of Dorothy, Mike Gold wrote in a magazine article:

Dorothy Rosenfeld...was the girl who for years had done volunteer secretarial work at the veterans' organization, slaving late into the night after long days at her paid job in a business office. Dorothy had been an ardent Zionist and pacifist. But she had seen her parents and sisters waste and die in the sweatshops and tenements. The depression had changed her as much as it had Pete. Their common beliefs and activities brought them together. ( Masses and Mainstream, November, 1950.)

Pete took to Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Communists took to Pete. They warmed to his shrewd homely speeches, his devotion to facts, his evident concern for issues and love of people. They showed him Brooklyn: its slums, tens of square miles of them; its dilapidated schools and understaffed hospitals; slippery, racketeer-controlled docks and huge steam laundries where Black women toiled for seven dollars a week amidst suffocating heat. Nor did they fail to acquaint him with the strike-breaking district attorney's office and the corrupt political machine which protected gangsters and grafters.

Pete absorbed it all and was speedily named chairman of the Brooklyn Party organization. But he promptly made it plain that he was not cut out to be a headquarters commander. He must be out with the people. And so the work was divided. Pete was the guy who stormed into relief bureaus, led picket lines and headed delegations to Borough Hall, City Hall and the State Capitol in Albany. He left the detailed organizational work to others, to colleagues who understood that Pete could lead best when he was involved in direct contact with people in struggle.

Working that way, it was not long before Pete became widely known in Brooklyn. He became the symbol of a fighting party. Further, he began to attract support from many working people who did not share his ideology, but recognized his integrity in battling for the daily issues that concerned them.

Thus, it was natural that the Brooklyn Communists in 1937 urged Pete to be their councilmanic candidate in the upcoming election, the first to be held under the new system of proportional representation, or PR, as it was popularly known. For Pete this came as no shock. He had watched political developments closely and the thought of a councilmanic candi-

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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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