By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Once he accepted the Independence Party's nomination, Michael Bloomberg's best hope was that Lenora Fulani, its notorious local leader, would just quietly go about the business of harvesting votes without drawing too much attention to herself. The Independence Party tactic works best when voters know the least about it. That way anti-Bush Democrats can still vote for a Republican mayor without actually contaminating themselves by throwing the GOP lever. Too much ink about party boss Fulani, her nutty associates, and her past rabid comments on Jews, Israel, and other subjects, and those same true-blue voters might get as upset with Mayor Mike for consorting with Fulani as with his dalliance with the party of Tom DeLay. That's the implicit danger in signing up with the Independence Party crowdyou never know when they're going to pop up saying something bizarre.
And sure enough, there was Fulani last Wednesday on the City Hall steps, surrounded by some 50 supporters waving Bloomberg signs, reminding the city she is still alive, kicking, and ready to go all the way with Mike. The mayor was nowhere to be seen, of course, but Fulani gloated that Bloomberg had already pumped a whopping $250,000 into her organization. "I hope he gives us billions," she added.
As they do whenever she appears in public, reporters asked Fulani if she regretted her past statements that "Jews sold their souls to acquire Israel," and became "mass murderers of people of color." Fulani was ready, albeit with an answer guaranteed to throw more fuel on the fire. "My political friends and advisers have told me that it is impossible to have a serious dialogue and discourse in this city at this time about those issues," she said, as reporters scribbled away.
That evening she dueled with NY1 host Dominick Carter, who months ago first confronted her about the anti-Semitic remarks. Carter succeeded in making Fulani look defensive, but she clearly relished the spotlight.
Predictably, the Independence Party leader's appearance quickly became a Bloomberg headache. In Orthodox Borough Park the following day to open a campaign office, the mayor scolded her. "She should have renounced anti-Semitism yesterday," Bloomberg said.
What motivates a political party leader to go out in public and embarrass the man she is ostensibly trying to elect? Why isn't Fulani squirreled away somewhere until election day, say at Bloomberg's Bermuda vacation home? Henry Stern, the former parks commissioner who is trying to revive the moribund Liberal Party with Bloomberg's help, said there's a simple answer.
"Her desire for self-aggrandizement is greater than her loyalty to the candidate the party supports," Stern told the Voice.
It's too late for Bloomberg to break the Independence Party out of the clutches of Fulani's tight-knit clique, but Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton, both of whom would love to enjoy the backing of the party minus Fulani's troubling presence, may get lucky. On Friday, state party chairman Frank MacKay, who has tolerated Fulani for years, announced that he was seeking to have four Fulani stalwarts removed from the party's executive committee.
"Her comments on Jews are a divorce issue," MacKay said. "They can't be tolerated." The stage is now set for a September 18 showdown meeting of the party's state committee. "I have no doubt we have the votes to remove them," said MacKay.
If so, it will be a rude awakening for Fulani and her mentor, Fred Newman. After Bloomberg won the last election with 59,000 votes on the Independence Party line, Fulani and Newman, a former Lyndon LaRouche ally, won Bloomberg's approval of $8.35 million in tax-free city bonds to help them build a new headquarters for their nonprofit youth group, the All Stars Project. This summer Bloomberg's Department of Youth and Community Development tentatively approved $240,000 in funding for the group. As All Stars president Gabrielle Kurlander, who lives with Newman, hopefully told the Voice last spring ("Fulani's City Hall Push," June 7, 2005), the city's backing will validate "all of our work in this field."
The contract might have been awarded already if not for two out-of-town women who have detailed their complaints about All Stars and the Newman-Fulani crew to the state attorney general's office. As the Post's Stefan Friedman has reported, the AG has since asked the city to hold up the funding pending the investigation. One of the women, Molly Hardy, a Los Angelesbased theatrical producer, described how she saw both children and parents receive abusive treatment during an All Stars training tour in New York ("Bloomberg's Therapist," Voice, June 21).
Erika Van Meir, a therapist based in Atlanta, Georgia, has also told investigators about how she unwittingly became ensnared in a Newman-spawned therapy clinic there. She later witnessed patients being recruited into the All Stars network and Independence Party politics in both New York and Georgia.
Describing herself as "politically naive," Van Meir said she went to work at the Atlanta Center for Social Therapy in 2000 as a means of gaining the required experience for a state therapy license. The center is run by Murray Dabby, an exNew Yorker and longtime Newman associate closely involved in Independence Party politics. Dabby was a plaintiff in a 2004 Fulani lawsuit alleging that Democrats shut Independence Party candidates out of debates.