This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
New York City was heading into a fiscal crisis when the strike began. Two things were readily apparent: Spending in 1963-64 would exceed the $2,785,000,000 expenditure budget for 1962-63, and revenue would fall short of expenditures by as much as a quarter of a billion dollars.
That the city would have to get help from its governmental sire, the state, was a foregone conclusion. The city’s standby authority to levy a payroll tax would have met less than half of the need. Other unused tax power was unsuitable or inadequate. More state aid would have helped, but Governor Rockefeller had been elected on a “no new tax” pledge and state finances were strained.
Nonetheless, Mayor Wagner addressed his customary annual letter on city finances to the governor on December 2, asking for additional state aid in a score of categories and requesting, once again, authority to impose a tax on off-track betting. He informed the governor that the city was in a “crucial financial situation.” The strike began before public dialogue on the city’s plight could get started. The mayor said the shutdown had handcuffed him.
The state’s fiscal situation was no less difficult for the governor. His budget, presented January 30, totaled $2,889,000,000, up $294,000,000 from the 1962-63 figure. (It raised state aid to the city by $50,000,000.)
The devices that had helped balance recent budgets were no longer adequate and the governor, seeking to boost revenues, proposed “updating fees and charges” by $110,000,000. An outcry immediately greeted the governor’s proposal to boost automobile license fees by $48,000,000. Critics called the move a thinly disguised tax increase.
Within twenty-four hours after submitting his budget, the governors had to use television to defend the fee increases. He hoped to forestall a legislative revolt, but his appeal was limited to his television audience and curtailed newspaper coverage. Almost certainly, he would have gained additional support from New York City newspapers.
III. The marketplace of ideas
Officials, political parties, and organized factions use newspapers (and other media) in a variety of ways to put ideas before the public. The formal statement, the official leak, the trial balloon, argument, gossip, and complaint—all serve to market ideas long before any official action is taken. During the newspaper strike, much of the marketplace was closed.
Civic and minority groups complained they were silenced. Dr. George H. Hallett Jr., of the Citizens Union said the strike had a “paralyzing effect on civic activity.” John M. Leavens of the Citizens Budget Commission said the strike “stopped the clock on public business.”
Milton M. Bergerman, chairman of the Citizens Union, was more specific. He said: “We are in a situation in which the nation’s second biggest government, the two-billion-dollar-a-year-plus government of New York City, is operating in the dark, making important and even grave decisions without the benefit of full public discussion and the airing of all sides and shades of public opinion.”
Others raised this point before the Board of Estimate at its January 24 meeting.
“Why do this during the newspaper blackout?” asked attorney Leo Klauber when the board renewed a city lease for the Transit-Mix Corporation, a manufacturer of ready-mix cement, over objections of tenants living in the adjoining Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village housing developments.
Among organized factions—minority groups, special interest groups, and pressure groups—the feeling was strong that their respective points of view were being stified by the strike.
Vito P. Battista of the small United Taxpayers Party complained that the strike was “horrible because things are going on all over the community and we can’t make our position heard.” Roger Starr of the Citizens Housing Council, which often tilts with Mr. Battista, agreed with him for once: “It’s impossible to function in the field of public opinion during the strike.” He complained that the Brooklyn Eagle was running a series of stories on crime in public housing that was “inept, inaccurate and prejudiced.” He said: “Without the regular newspapers, there’s no place where I can answer.”