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

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

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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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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