Tuesday, June 6, 2017

I Scribe, Marcantonio (II) Battling Bureaucrats

Marc speaks at a "Wallace for President Rally," Yankee Stadium 1948

Friends is Friends.

Vito Marcantonio was a hands-on people's representative not above stepping into the small-life affairs of his constituents in a personal way. He had a biting, city-boy sense of humor and a lawyer's tendency to block each argument presented to him and with these tools did he wage verbal battle on behalf of the poor.  

His streetwise approach to administrative and official matters, his unequivocal advocacy on behalf of constituents, and his familiarity with the conditions by which they lived, are all on exhibit in an exchange archived with the Marcantonio Papers at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. 

The written salvos took place between Marcantonio and Arthur McDermott, director, Selective Service for City of New York. 

A Marcantonio collaborator, Tony Ribaudo, had been drafted into World War II and apparently requested the congressman's assistance in getting off the hook, given that he was the sole provider for his ex-wife, their child and his mother. 

Marcantonio's opening request is not available in the file, but McDermott's caustic response of Nov. 12, 1942, is. 

The conscription chief notes that Ribaudo has been, “a paid organizer for the Communist Party since Jan. 5. 1942.” He further observes how Ribaudo,“became separated from his wife and four children on Jan. 7, 1942” [perhaps hinting at a link between joining the party and unjoining his marriage].

The draft chief points out that at the time of his filing, [Ribaudo] and his family were on home relief, and had been so for five years previously.

McDermott notes that Ribaudo claimed to live with his daughter by a first, deceased wife and his mother, and accuses him of trying to, “bring himself within the rule that provides that a registrant who lives in a bona fide family relationship with his child, is entitled to a dependency deferment.”

Supporters at the Lucky Corner
Anthony Ribaudo does not seem to rank as someone “important” in the congressman's constellation. He appears more akin to the neighborhood “characters” Marc prided himself on not forgetting as he rose to prominence. Men such as Anthony “Kid” Lagana, a secretary of Marc's who was fished out of the East River, or prize fighter Dominick Petrone, a district captain and alleged “gibbone” body guard. 

They served him as ward-heelers, spotters, messengers, organizers and he gave them the respectability that came when one worked with a member of Congress. 

Ribaudo makes a few appearances in the file the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept on Marc...the Marcantonio File.

An Aug. 2, 1946 “teletype” U.S. Department of Justice memo has Ribaudo working as a go-between Marcantonio and U.S. Communist Party secretary general Eugene Dennis. It refers to Ribaudo as a “campaign manager” for the congressman. 

“Dennis was advised that Marcantonio is in Washington D.C., and returns to NY each evening about Nine O-Clock,” the memo informs. [He did this on Fridays, not every day].

An Aug. 9, 1946 FBI office memo details two communications, “which reflect on how the Communist Party reaches Congressman Vito Marcantonio."

Once again Ribaudo's name pops up as someone “describing himself as being with Marcantonio calling Communist Party headquarters trying to reach Dennis with a message that the congressman wanted to talk with him about the “Brooklyn situation” on the afternoon of July 16, 1946.  

The Brooklyn situation was unknown to the Feds, according to the memo's author, J.C. Strickland, “although it possibly pertains to the support publicly offered by Marcantonio to Congressman O'Toole, which was a surprise to Communists in the New York City area since their favored candidate from the same area had to withdraw. This was Douglas McMahon, reported Communist who is an official of the Transport Workers Union – CIO.”  

“It might be noted,” Strickland wrote, “that the Bureau has conducted an investigation of Ribaudo who in the past served as section organizer for the East Harlem Section of the Communist Party in the New York City Area.”

The second interoffice FBI communication appears to refer to the same facts as contained in the first.  
Italian Neighborhood Life

In any case, McDermott imparts to Marcantonio that Ribaudo's induction into the wartime army shall proceed apace. That communists are good as anybody else when it comes to canon fodder. Given that the above memos discussing his role as a Marc go-between are dated from 1946, we can assume Ribaudo survived and made it home hale and hardy.

Hostos Community College professor Gerald Meyer notes that the Communist Party encouraged its members to enlist. "It's support for  Tony Ribaudo's exemption indicates that they valued his work very highly." 

Marcantonio returned fire on Nov. 4. In his letter, the congressman does not evade the Red charge or even dispute it. The tactic was old news to him, what he called, “the red herring that hid the fact there was no pork chop.”  

Marc challenged inaccuracies in McDermott's letter as to Ribaudo's support payments to his wife [they were larger].  

Furthermore, Marcantonio noted, “There is nothing strange or unusual for one that becomes separated from his wife to want to live with his mother and his child.”

But Marc was forced to relent, saying he expected no satisfaction from McDermott, thanks to his political prejudices. “I am certain that if [Ribaudo] were not a communist, the decision would be otherwise. The contents of your letter proves it.”  

Marcantonio's street-speak sparring skills translated well to his written output, his scripted word as sharp as the spoken barbs he launched at congressional colleagues.

“Ordinarily,” wrote McDermott, “I would have been amazed that a public official had attempted to intercede on behalf of a registrant whose case obviously had so little merit, were it not for the fact that you were the Congressman.”  

To which Marc responded, “I would ordinarily resent the attack contained in your letter if it were not for the fact you had made it.”

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