NEW YORK, NOV. 26 -- Daily News Publisher James Hoge, publicly discussing the bitter strike at his newspaper for the first time today, criticized unions that he said are killing the paper with violence and intimidation.
"We did not tell employees to go out on strike," Hoge said during almost two hours of testimony before a hearing of a joint New York State Senate and Assembly Labor Committee. "We were struck in the middle of the night. We did not cause the violence; we are its victims."
The hearing, called at the City Bar Association to discuss possible legislation to bar hiring replacement workers, quickly became a daylong opportunity for union leaders and management officials to criticize and blame each other for the paper's plight.
Whatever the ultimate result of this hearing or lawsuits that many observers assume will be filed soon by the News and the unions, a clear consensus has emerged that the newspaper is faltering badly.
Newsstand operators in New York City have refused to carry the News since the strike began Oct. 25, leaving homeless men as principal sales representatives. Macy's and Abraham and Straus, two of the paper's biggest advertisers, have stopped advertising in the News because the paper is delivering no more than 200,000 of its normal 1.1 million weekday copies.
Union leaders described Hoge's contention today that they had waged a campaign of violence and intimidations as slanderous and libelous. Assembly member Frank J. Barbaro (D-Brooklyn), the committee chairman, clashed repeatedly with Hoge while he testified.
Asked at one point why he had not accepted offers by Mayor David N. Dinkins (D), Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) or Roman Catholic Cardinal John J. O'Connor to mediate the dispute, Hoge said he relied on federal mediators and did not want anyone with a political agenda to be involved in the discussions.
"The cardinal has an agenda?" Barbaro bellowed, interrupting Hoge. "Are you saying the cardinal has a political agenda? I have had my differences with him, but I take umbrage to that as a Catholic."
Hoge defended his right to hire replacement workers, stating that, without them, the News could not publish. This is the first time in the history of New York newspaper strikes that management has been able to publish a nearly complete paper every day.
At first, the News appeared able to break the unions, hire replacements and continue to publish without problems. But management has been stunned by its inability to retain normal newsstand display. News officials have charged that union pressure has prevented newsstand operators from accepting daily bundles of the paper.
But at today's hearing, top police officials testified that detectives have found no suggestion of a campaign of violence, although more than 225 criminal incidents have been logged since the strike began. Of 107 arrests related to the strike, 75 have been of union members, police said.
"Each one of these arrests were isolated incidents," said Chief of Detectives Joseph Borrelli. "We haven't been able to put together some type of conspiracy. We don't see a conspiracy at all here as of now."
That statement brought applause from the gallery, heavily populated with union supporters.
Chief of Police Robert Johnston said the strike has cost the city almost $7 million in police wages and overtime.
"Hoge lies," said Juan Gonzalez, a striking reporter. "He lied about the violence, about their strike preparations and about their willingness to bargain."
Hoge gave no indication of how long the paper would continue to publish if it cannot recover advertisers. His testimony, which began with attacks on the unions, ended with attacks on the panel.
"I can't help but sit here feeling disturbed," he told Barbaro. "You have spent the entire morning suggesting our lawful efforts are the problem here. You should look at the arrest sheets."
Barbaro exploded again.
"Your comments are totally inappropriate," he shouted. "We are not here to give you a platform for self-serving statements. We are hear to look at the truth."