This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Even picketing at City Hall did not seem worthwhile without the regular newspapers. Groups wishing to hammer home a point picket because they are assured of coverage. City Hall was picketed just three times in the first two months of the strike and the strike was in its thirty-seventh day before the first such demonstration was staged by the Black Muslims.
The Congress of Racial Equality said the strike hindered its boycott against the Sealtest Milk Company, begun on January 12 in protest against alleged segregation in employment practices. A spokesman said; “It has been difficult to make people aware of it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said its annual report was “blacked out.” The Commerce and Industry Association called the strike “very disadvantageous” to its efforts to arouse public opinion on public policy. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith called the strike “disastrous.” Oscar Cohen of the league said that it found radio and television inadequate to propagate abstract ideas.
For years, governors of New York have been “leaking” to the press portions of their annual messages in advance of delivery to the legislature. Leaks normally begin during the Christmas holidays but were postponed this year until January 2, partly in hope the news strike would have ended. The leaks got scant attention in New York City.
The New York State Log of The Associated Press reported that the governor’s office also postponed for a few days, because of the strike, its announcement of the appointment of Donald S. Hostetter, a former FBI man, as chairman of the State Liquor Authority. The Authority was under investigation and criticism and the Governor’s office evidently wanted the widest possible coverage of this step to “clean up.”
The offering of names for appointive office is often done through newspaper stories. The little-publicized resignation of James Felt as chairman of the City Planning Commission, following the death of the Expressway plan, left groups interested in finding a fitting successor without the usual channels for assisting the mayor in a choice. C. McKim Norton of the Regional Plan Association arranged a meeting of a group of community leaders to discuss the matter over coffee on the morning of January 7.
The group met again on January 23 with the mayor at Gracie Mansion, and suggested that the new chairman be recruited from outside the present commission. It offered some names for consideration. Except for the strike, discreet suggestions to leading editorial writers would have obtained a like result. The group learned that the mayor, too, wanted an outsider and had offered the Job to Robert C. Weaver, Housing and Home Finance Administrator, who turned it down. This information did not become public.
“News and policy discussion gets through by word of mouth,” said Mr. Norton. “New York has become a small town again.”
Political leaders and political parties found it difficult to launch trial balloons. One significant move was canceled because of the strike. It involved the city budget.
City officials were pondering how to raise $175,000,000 to $250,000,000 in new revenue. Among ideas discussed privately were an increase of 1 percent in the present 3 percent city sales tax and the levy of a new city payroll tax of one-half of 1 percent. The Liberal party, often the stalking horse for Mayor Wagner’s policies, was about to propose another idea—a city income tax as distinct from a payroll tax. It would have had a number of advantages, including a broader base and ease of collection. But the balloon was not launched.
“We’re a party that lives by public opinion,” said Alex Rose, party vice-chairman, “Our only role in government is as a moral force. Our role, our influence is at a standstill during the strike.”
City Controller Abraham D. Beame said that the city was stymied during the strike in pressing for a tax on off-track betting on horse races as a citystate revenue measure, A Republican informant said: “On off-track betting, nobody is going to carry the ball for the Democrats if the New York City newspapers don’t. The issue is dead while the strike lasts.”