Ferdinand Pecora reached almost mythical fame when, for almost a year, in 1933, he publicly exposed the wrongdoing of Wall Street bankers that led to the 1929 stock market crash while serving as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Banking and Finance. His methodical questioning and thorough investigation incited the nation, and his integrity and skill won the praise of the Republican chairman of the Committee, and, once sworn in, the new Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt, and new Democratic chairman of the Committee. During the hearings, Pecora questioned all the Wall Street Bank CEOs, including J.P. Morgan, Jr. Pecora made the cover of TIME magazine. Most importantly, he defied the crass bigotry and discrimination that pervaded the nation and was harshly directed against Southern Italian immigrants.
Pecora was born in Nicosia, Italy in 1882. He immigrated to the United States in 1886, when, with his mother, Rosa Messina Pecora, and his two brothers, he entered New York harbor to join his father, Luigi, already there. It was a rough life, living in a one-room basement apartment with his eight brothers and sisters, in the Chelsea section of New York City. Pecora sought to defy the Italian stereotype imposed by the media and the Anglo Saxon society that perpetuated it. He acquired an impeccable grasp of English, mastered Shakespeare and Dickens, studied law, married, and served as a prosecutor in New York City for twelve years.
After his remarkable accomplishment in 1933, Pecora was appointed to the first Securities and Exchange Commission by President Roosevelt. In 1935, Governor Herbert Lehman appointed Pecora a New York Supreme Court judge. He was, along with many other Italian immigrants, a fervent anti-Fascist and opponent of Mussolini before the war against Italy and Germany was declared, and a strong proponent of equal rights, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and President Truman’s Fair Deal. He continued in various forms of public service, and returned to his family life as father, grandfather, and husband. He died in 1971, at 89 years old.
Pecora’s accomplishments re-emerged in 2009 and 2010 during the nation-wide financial crisis. There were calls for a “Pecora Investigation” into Wall Street’s conduct by the New York Times, and other national publications, an excellent biography written by Professor Michael Perino of St. John’s Law School, and a constant refrain of “Where’s Our Ferdinand Pecora?” including in a special program By Bill Moyers on Public Broadcasting Television.
A new one person play centered on the 1933 Senate hearings and Pecora’s role —The Reckoning, Pecora for the Public, written by Neil Thomas Proto, will open on March 4th in Seattle at the Cornish Playhouse’s Studio Theater (Tickets available at Pecora.BrownPaperTickets.com).
This special edition of Italian of the Week was written by Neil Thomas Proto
The Reckoning, Pecora for the Public made its debut in Seattle on March 4th. As Neil Thomas Proto, The Reckoning‘s playwright, described it for OSIA’s members: “It was a special joy to give life to Ferdinand Pecora, an Italian immigrant who, when the responsibility to ensure fairness and justice was his to exercise, brought to bear the skill and moral imperative necessary to confront successfully Wall Street’s bankers and lawyers. He made a profound difference in America when it mattered.”