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Hoffa’s Son May Run for Father’s Old Job

TIMES STAFF WRITER

James P. Hoffa, son of the legendary, long-missing Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, may soon attempt to gain the presidency of the 1.6-million-member union that his father once ran.

Jimmy Jr., as the younger Hoffa is known here in his hometown, is a 49-year-old Detroit attorney specializing in labor law and is a member of a Detroit-area Teamsters local. Much of his legal work--out of a downtown Detroit law office that has a portrait of his father dominating the lobby--is done on behalf of Teamsters locals that were once loyal to his father and his father’s allies, but he has never held an elected position with the Teamsters.

Hoffa, a heavyset man with his father’s jutting features and piercing eyes, did not return several phone calls Thursday. He has not yet officially announced whether he plans to run in the union’s federally supervised 1991 presidential election--the first in Teamsters’ history in which rank-and-file members will be able to vote directly for the union’s top officers.

But support for a potential Hoffa candidacy appears to be spreading rapidly among Teamsters members and local leaders, especially in the Detroit area, which was the power base that originally launched his father to the international union’s presidency back in 1957.

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Increasingly, truck drivers and other Teamsters members in the area, who apparently yearn for the days when Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters were feared and respected by corporate management, are sporting black jackets that say “Friends of Hoffa” across the back.

At the same time, Teamsters leaders who support Hoffa suggest that he is seriously considering a presidential bid.

“Mr. Hoffa hasn’t said he won’t run,” said Robert Elkins, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 614, a big, 6,000-member local in Pontiac, Mich. “If Mr. Hoffa is willing to seek the international presidency, I’m sure the membership and the leadership of this local would be 95% for him,” added Elkins.

“People would support him because of his association with his father and the Teamsters. And he’s a dedicated worker, he’s ambitious, and I think he’d be great for this union,” Elkins said.

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“Jimmy Hoffa would make one helluva candidate that would be a favorite with the membership,” said Howard Molpus, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 332 in Flint, Mich., which has 3,000 members.

“I’m sure that Jimmy Jr. will not only get support in this local but in a lot of locals,” Molpus added.

Hoffa Jr.'s emergence as a potential force inside the scandal-plagued Teamsters comes nearly 15 years after his father’s unsolved disappearance and presumed murder by organized crime figures in July, 1975. Federal officials believe that Hoffa was murdered by mobsters who wanted to ensure that Hoffa did not reassert his power over the Teamsters following his 1971 release from prison for mail fraud and jury tampering.

Although FBI officials believe that they know who killed Hoffa and why--and actually sent most of those suspected of being involved to jail on other charges--they have never made any arrests in his murder and have never officially closed the case.

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As a result, James Riddle Hoffa’s mysterious disappearance has, over the years, taken on mythic proportions; the location of his final resting place has become the subject of countless rumors, most recently, that his body was buried under Giants Stadium in New Jersey. As a result, Hoffa, like Amelia Earhart and Judge Crater before him, has entered the pantheon of America’s most legendary missing persons.

Hoffa Jr.'s apparent interest in union politics also comes at a time when federal supervision and intensive court scrutiny are forcing dramatic changes in the way the union operates and the way it picks its national leadership. Next year’s election will be the first time the rank and file will have any real say in selecting the leadership, and it is still unclear whether the current president, William McCarthy, plans to run for reelection.

“The leadership now is fractured and essentially leaderless,” argued Ken Paff, an organizer for the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a Detroit-based group dedicated to reforming the union.

Thus, many union officials and other observers believe that Hoffa’s name could go far in winning over grass-roots support.

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“The only power base he has is a five-letter name,” observed Paff. “But he would have a lot of support among the rank and file because of his name.”

Indeed, some Teamsters leaders believe that a return to power by the Hoffa family is just what the union needs.

“We owe a lot of our livelihoods to the Hoffa family, they made this union great,” said Elkins.

Still, Hoffa, a 1966 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, may face legal challenges if he does decide to run, because he has never been a working member of the union. Paff said that under the union’s current constitution, professionals who work on retainer for the union are not eligible to run for the presidency, even if they are Teamsters members.

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“He’s a member, but he’s not eligible to run,” said Paff. “He’s not really legally eligible to be a member either, but a lot of things aren’t done properly in this union.”

BACKGROUND On July 30, 1975, former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa was abducted in broad daylight from in front of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. He was never seen again. The FBI believes that Hoffa was murdered on orders from New Jersey organized crime figures who wanted to make sure that he did not regain any power in the Teamsters union. The union had come under even deeper mob control after Hoffa was forced to agree to stay out of union politics in order to win a 1971 commutation of a prison term stemming from a 1967 conviction on mail fraud and jury tampering charges.


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