The Cardinal and the Council
DESPITE the increasing chill of the cold war atmosphere, Pete stood with Ben in battle on a series of local issues -- for veterans' housing, against the sales tax increase and a rise in utility rates and for democracy in autocratically run Brooklyn College. But Pete and Ben soon discovered that the Democratic council leadership, which piously shrank from debating national and international issues when it suited them, were now thrusting cold war issues to the fore. Perhaps the most bitter of the cold war battles flared up around the formal honoring of Cardinal Francis Spellman, New York's Catholic archbishop.
Spellman was returning from Rome where he had received the red hat of cardinal -- stopping in Spain en route to visit with dictator Francisco Franco -- and the council leaders thought it appropriate to hail the former Fordham University shortstop who had become a prince of the church. Spellman, it may be recalled, was on the extreme right of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy -- there was nothing then like the Catholic Left of the sixties and seventies -- and had been a vicious foe of the Spanish Republic. He and most of the rest of the hierarchy had exerted enormous pressure on the Roosevelt Administration during the Spanish civil war of the thirties. Politically informed people regarded their power largely responsible for FDR's cowardly embargo on arms for the legitimate Spanish republican government in its struggle against Franco and his Hitler-Mussolini legions.
Spellman's political clout was legendary and manifested itself in a hundred ways in local, national and international affairs. A walkout of gravediggers at Catholic cemeteries drew his ire; he helped break the strike. It was not for nothing that the cardinal's residence was called "The Powerhouse" by New York politicians. When they said "50th Street" they were referring not to St. Patrick's Cathedral but to the adjoining Chancery offices; a frown or a smile from the archbishop or