New York Times

Hoffa Says He Won't Debate Candidates in Teamsters Race


October 7, 1998

James P. Hoffa, widely considered the front-runner in the race for the Teamsters presidency, does not intend to participate in the Oct. 19 candidates' debate scheduled by the court-appointed officer overseeing the election, the Hoffa campaign announced Tuesday.

Hoffa's campaign manager, Tom Pazzi, said in a statement that the election officer "is seeking to cooperate with corporate media giants to catapult Hoffa's opponents into a name recognition and stature which they, unlike Hoffa, haven't earned."

The two other candidates, Thomas Leedham, head of the Teamsters' warehouse division, and John Metz, head of the public employees' division, have told election monitor Michael Cherkasky that they plan to participate in the debate.

Jeff O'Mara, a spokesman for Cherkasky, said the debate, to be held at American University in Washington, would proceed without Hoffa.

Hoffa's refusal to debate represents a reversal from his position in the 1996 race for the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, when he repeatedly demanded a debate and often ridiculed the incumbent, Ron Carey, for refusing to face him.

Carey narrowly defeated Hoffa, son of the famous Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, but Cherkasky's predecessor as election monitor invalidated Carey's victory, finding that he had improperly siphoned more than $700,000 in union money to help his campaign.

In a telephone interview, Leedham attacked his opponent's refusal to debate.

"Junior is afraid to debate, and if he's afraid to take me on in a debate, I wonder where he's going to find the guts to take on the United Parcel Service or the freight companies," Leedham said. "He's in a position where he's afraid to have to defend his shady past and his past connections. He's afraid that the people will see he has no record and very little knowledge about the union."

Metz did not reply to a message left on the answering machine at his campaign headquarters.

Hoffa campaign officials said the current situation was different from 1996. Hoffa's demand for a debate then, they said, was warranted because Hoffa and Carey had nearly equal support and name recognition.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company

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