New York community bankers are trying to whittle away at the credit union industry's legendary grass-roots support by appealing to peoples' pocketbooks.

Tupper Lake National Bank has run advertisements in two upstate newspapers - The Tupper Lake Free Press and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise - that blast the credit union tax exemption.

"The taxpayer pays and pays because credit unions don't!" screams the ad in the Daily Enterprise. "Exemption from paying taxes stacks the deck in their favor."

"I'd love to have a level playing field," said Martin M. Bier, the bank's chief executive. "If I didn't have to pay taxes, we'd be doing very well."

The ad was just one of five developed by Long Island's E.B. Advertising for a statewide campaign by the Independent Bankers Association of New York State.

"The genesis of this is a year old, when Newt Gingrich announced that credit unions were safe, that their tax exemption was safe," said John Pritchard, executive director of the banking trade group. "We felt that it was unfortunate that it was taken off the table."

"The point of the campaign is to say, 'Hey, look: As a taxpayer, is this the way you want to go?'" he said.

The Tupper Lake bank was the first to run the ads, but a group of institutions in the western part of the state are planning to follow suit, Mr. Pritchard said.

Ever vigilant to protect their white-hat image, the state's credit unions plan to defend the tax exemption to newspapers that run the ad, said Chris Langley, a spokesman for the New York State Credit Union League.

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