I went again to Brooklyn College where I went through the Peter McGuinness collection. I got a clue today to the source of the material. It was Pete himself. He created fourteen scrap books with clippings about his doings. I was reading today about Pete and Greenpoint durng the Great Depression. These were hard times. Half the people in Greenpoint were out of work because it was a huge center of manufacturing and it felt the sting of the depression quickly.
Pete had a great regard for the poor. One newspaper teased him about poverty in Greenpoint. His answer was vintage Pete stating,” GOd must have loved the poor people if he centered them all in Greenpoint.” He continued,” I ain’t going to deny it.While my folks are poor they are honest. Maybe that’s why they do not get rich.”
There were two figures in Greenpoint during the Great Depression who did great things to help the hungry people of Greenpoint: Father McGoldrick of Saint Cecila’s and Pete. Pete had the Peter J. McGuinness night in which thousands of people showed up at a diinner whose proceeds went to feed the poor. In 1931 Pete’s organization gave out one thousand three hundred fifty baskets of food. Each basket had a five pound chicken and five pounds of potatoes, Cranberries, pork and beans, soap, sugar, milk , bread tea, oranges and apples, but most importantly candy for the kids for Christmas. in 1932 the number grew to over two thousand. People were proud, but they had large families to feed so one could imagine that they had little choice, but to accept the baskets.
Every night Pete went to his club where he helped his constituents. Times were hard and people needed help. Each night on average he helped ten people fill out applications for home relief. He was constantly stopping evictions and settling domestic disputes caused in part by the hard times. Pete also helped get people jobs that literally saved families.
Everyone said that Pete was the last of a dying breed- the urban Democratic ward boss, but he had power and was respected by the party. He was a friend of the party leaders Jim Farley and through Farley he met Roosevelt with whom he shared a conversation over a hotdog and orangeade. Pete’s club was festooned with a gigantic Roosevelt banner than even had lights at night. He believed in Roosevelt’s philosophy of priming the pump and getting people back to work, government make work jobs if they were not created by the private sector. When Roosevelt was elected Pete was a central member of the Brooklyn Democrats in attendance. Ironically, Roosevelt was sworn in by a man who grew up in Greenpoint- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes, like Roosevelt had been governor of New York, but soon they would quarrel over the legality of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.
It is little wonder that the area was heavily Democratic. Pete delivered 14,000 more votes for Roosevelt than for his Republican challenger. There were fourteen thousand or so registered Democrats out of 16,000 or so.