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North Fork makes bid for Dime Bancorp

In its most recent and aggressive move yet, North Fork Bancorp announced a $1.9 billion hostile takeover of the Manhattan-based Dime Bancorp Sunday, barely two weeks before Dime shareholders were scheduled to vote on a merger with a New Jersey bank.

If successful, North Fork's unfriendly bid would add six Dime branches to its 38 banks in Queens, and an additional 20 Dime branches in Brooklyn to North Fork's nine. North Fork would gain four Dime branches in Manhattan to boost North Fork's holdings in that borough to six.

The proposed Dime acquisition marks North Fork's third in the past seven months. In September 1999, North Fork took over both Reliance Federal Savings Bank and Jamaica Savings Banks, making it the fourth largest bank in Queens.

Dime Bancorp has branches in Forest Hills, Jamaica Estates, Maspeth, Murray Hill, Rego Park and Sunnyside. North Fork Bancorp is based in Melville, L.I.

Dime shareholders were scheduled to vote on a proposed merger with New Jersey-based Hudson United Bancorp. A statement released by Dime Tuesday urged the company's shareholders to reject the North Fork bid and follow through on the scheduled Hudson deal.

"We know North Fork's operations well and have previously concluded that a combination with North Fork would not be in the best interests of our shareholders," said Lawrence J. Toal, chairman and chief executive officer of Dime. "Rather, a merger with North Fork, which is today a thrift in a bank's clothing, would reverse the progress made by Dime to transform itself into a commercial bank."

North Fork had not responded to Toal's statement as of presstime. The Long Island company was able to launch the hostile bid for Dime with the financial backing of FleetBoston Financial Corp.

John Kanas, the chairman and chief executive officer of North Fork, said his company has always sought to increase its presence in Queens.

"We've had a great experience in the borough and have always looked for ways to expand," he said in a telephone interview.

Kanas said the Dime merger and the acquisition of that company's 20 Brooklyn branches would be "a nice complement to our Queens franchises."

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