Class of 1940B
Victor Riesel was a syndicated newspaper columnist whose crusade against corruption and gangster infiltration into labor unions made him the target of one of the most vicious attacks on a member of the press in this country. It happened at about 3 a.m. on April 5, 1956, shortly after Riesel had been on the radio charging officials of the International Union of Operating Engineers with conspiring with racketeers and extortionists to maintain control of the construction-industry union. He and his secretary had just left Lindy’s restaurant on Broadway near 50th Street when a man came out of the shadows and threw the contents of a bottle of sulfuric acid into Riesel’s face, blinding him for life. Almost four months later, Abe Telvi, the man accused of throwing the acid, was found shot to death in Chinatown. Eight men were arrested and federal authorities said the attack was the work of mobsters out to silence Riesel.
“I wasn’t important as a man, but I was important as a symbol,” Riesel later wrote. “The attack on me was an attack on the entire free press, challenging its right to expose crime and injustice.”
It was a crime that not only shocked the nation, but resulted in significant changes in national American labor policy, among them passage of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. That law imposed financial reporting requirements on labor unions, limited the power of trusteeships, established many member and employee rights, and put a spotlight on unfair labor practices governing unions.
It also expanded Riesel’s national profile. He had already been a widely read columnist who at the height of his popularity had been syndicated in some 350 newspapers, including The New York Daily Mirror. After the attack, Riesel began a regular television program on WRCA-TV and a weekly radio program on WEVD. He continued to write his column, typing it himself. Until he retired as a columnist in 1990, his wife would read to him from the daily newspapers. He gave lectures, he taught and he was active with the Overseas Press Club of America, serving as its president in 1966.
|One month after being blinded, Victor Riesel described the experience to the press.|
Riesel was born on the Lower East Side of New York on March 26, 1913. The family moved to the Bronx when Riesel was 13 and the academically gifted youngster graduated from Morris High School at the age of 15. He was introduced to the labor movement by his father, Nathan, an organizer in one of the locals of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union who often took his son to meetings. While still in high school, Riesel began behaving like a journalist, typing stories about the American labor movement, sending them to English-language newspapers in other countries, and charging $1 for publication rights.
He entered City College in 1928, but didn’t earn his BBA degree until 1940. By day, he worked in a hat factory, a lace plant, a steel mill and a saw mill. At the College, he was named director of undergraduate publications and was an editor, columnist, book reviewer and drama critic. At various times prior to his graduation from CCNY, Riesel left New York for jobs in the mines and mills of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland and Youngtown, Ohio, submitting articles to labor publications about his experiences and observations. He also found work at The New Leader magazine and became its managing editor. In 1941, he joined The New York Post. A year later, he launched his column. He left The Post in 1948 to join William Randolph Hearst’s Daily Mirror.
Riesel died on Jan. 4, 1995. He was 81.