Volume 76, Number 53 | May 30 - June 5, 2007


V.I.D.-Tammany alliance just wasn’t in the cards

By Ed Gold

As a footnote to Village political history, this seems like an appropriate time to describe Assemblymember Bill Passannante’s bizarre attempt to get Village Independent Democrats to join forces with its distinguished opponent, the last important Tammany leader, Carmine DeSapio.

There are several reasons why Passannante may have made the effort. He was clearly more liberal than the old-line Tamawa Club that DeSapio ran. During the Cold War, he stood tall in criticizing the House Un-American Activities Committee, which found Communists anywhere to the left of the Pope. And in Albany, he took courageous stands on easing abortion and sodomy laws.

A second reason for wanting V.I.D. to join up with Tamawa was hisdistaste for primary election fights, and more specifically, the money it cost to run such a primary, which was then about $5,000. Passannante was noted for his care in spending money and hated to have to invest in a primary.

The year was 1960, and Passannante could face a contest — and infact did — two years later.

So he approached members of the moderate wing of V.I.D., includingme, and invited us up to a Tamawa meeting with the hope that a merger might result.

The Tamawa Club had ruled the district for two decades, headquartered one flight up at Bleecker St. and Seventh Ave. S., a few blocks south of V.I.D.

When we arrived, Passannante, serving as my guide, pointed out DeSapio’s female leader, Elsie Gleason Matura, a friendly woman who was sitting in a large chair, chatting with club members about family matters and urging them to have coffee and cookies.

It was no accident that she had kept her maiden name, Gleason, since the Italians had taken the district from the Irish and there were still some hard feelings.

During that period, female leaders in old-line clubs were essentially hostesses and Gleason Matura enjoyed that role. She made clear on several occasions that she would “never disagree with Carmine.”

While the other guests from V.I.D. wandered about, Passannante wantedme to speak with the house intellectual and political historian, who was introduced to me as Judge Chimera. Passannante said with confidence that “anything you want to know about the Democratic Party, Judge Chimera can fill you in.”

One reason Passannante may have invited me was the fact that I had recently been elected a vice president at V.I.D., beating Ed Koch, who, coincidentally, would wind up as Passannante’s opponent in the 1962 primary election.

Chimera loved to talk about Democratic politics and, at one point during his lecture, he said to me: “One man has just saved the Democratic Party in New York State.”

I was all ears.

“Who would that be?” I asked.

He paused for a moment to increase the dramatic impact and said: “Cardinal Spellman!”

I was not a big fan of the cardinal’s and must have seemed startled.

“How did he save the party?” I asked.

Chimera responded quickly: “He forgave Eleanor Roosevelt,” one of my favorite people. The cardinal and Mrs. Roosevelt held different views on church-state matters and the cardinal had expressed his displeasure on several occasions.

“How did the cardinal forgive Mrs. Roosevelt?” I asked.

“He went to Hyde Park and had lunch with her,” Chimera responded.

Not wanting to be impolite, I changed the subject: “By the way, when does the meeting start?”

The judge clearly thought that was a dumb question.

“We’re at the meeting now,” he exclaimed.

“But when does the club take up issues?” I continued.

The judge got up from his chair and pointed to a small office facing him: “We handle business in that room when Carmine is here.”

I thanked the judge for clarifying things for me and took my leave.

All the guests Passannante had invited returned to V.I.D. I ran for club president the following year when we defeated DeSapio and became the official Democratic club in the district.

Passannante would have to spend money on a primary a year later, which turned out well for him, since he beat Koch handily.

He and I remained friends for many years and he later joined V.I.D. But he never wanted to talk about my meeting with Judge Chimera.

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