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Hoffa bids to walk in father's Teamster shoes

Hoffa December 12, 1996
Web posted at: 6:45 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Mark Feldstein

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's a name from the past that still resonates today: Jimmy Hoffa.

The legendary labor boss, who vanished without a trace in 1975, is on the verge of making a comeback -- in the form of his son.

Jimmy Hoffa Jr. is running for election to become president of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union his father once ruled in partnership with the mob.

The younger Hoffa sounds as if he has learned the art of modern political speech when talking about his bid to lead the Teamsters.

"We believe we have the momentum and the message to win this race," he told CNN.

The 55-year-old Hoffa harkens back to the glory days of his father, when the union was bigger and paychecks were fatter. He appeals to the Teamster rank and file by promising to "restore the power and pride" of the union's glory days.

Mob links denied

supporters

Back then, however, the union's muscle included the mob.

Today the new-generation Hoffa denies any links with the underworld. When bluntly asked by CNN if he has ever associated with organized crime figures, Hoffa resolutely replied, "No."

Hoffa admits, however, that he once was a business partner of a well-known mob money man who was later murdered.

"Well, I didn't think he was a mobster," said Hoffa. "But you know we have to wait and see what happens. He's gone."

Jimmy Hoffa Sr.

For many Teamsters, the message is not as important as the magic Hoffa name.

Hoffa works that sentimental connection to maximum effect with regular calls for a return to the days when the Teamsters were a force in American society.

The longing for the days of Jimmy Hoffa Sr. can be heard in the voice of Teamster Dick Bailey.

"I like his dad. I like the background that they present," said Bailey. "So I just went for the Hoffa slate."

Reform candidate

Hoffa's opponent, incumbent Ron Carey, was elected as a reform president five years ago. As part of his program, he has helped crack down on the chronic corruption at local Teamster offices across the country.

And he pledges more of the same of re-elected.

Carey

"Wherever it (corruption) raises its ugly head, we will be there to cut it off," said Carey.

But Carey's anti-corruption message has been slow to attract campaign funds. Hoffa has raised twice the money that Carey has.

But it is votes, not money, that wins victories. Observers are not placing bets on the election's outcome.

Early returns Wednesday put Carey ahead of Hoffa by a small margin, but it will probably be the end of the week before all 450,000 to 500,000 ballots are counted.

The Teamsters election is being supervised by court-appointed officials in an effort to avoid vote fraud.

Hoffa contends federal officials are trying to stop him from winning because the government wants a "weaker" union.

"The government, the election officer and everybody can try and screw us; and they're not going to do it," Hoffa told a crowd of cheering Teamsters. "We're going to win, and we're gonna win big!"

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