By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
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.
Dabby and other clinic officials pushed Van Meir to embrace "social therapy"a homegrown brand of psychotherapy advanced by Newman as "a new science of human development." Newman, who is not a licensed therapist, was discussed with reverence at the clinic, and Van Meir was also urged to sign up for expensive lectures with him in New York. "They made it clear to me that unless I took the next step and attended these [sessions], I would never understand their practice," she said.
In New York, however, the $150-per-person talks turned out to be sermons in which Newman "rambled on and on about his confusing politics." Clinic patients were also urged to shell out for the sessions, she said, and several told her they were baffled by them. "It was very, very unethical what they were doing," said Van Meir.
Part of Newman's therapy recipe revolves around theater, and Newman, 70, is the author of dozens of plays. To that end, the Atlanta center promoted readings of Newman's works, and, to Van Meir's alarm, even recruited patients to panhandle on the streets for donations to their theater. The center called the solicitations "street performance" and even paid for a Newman aide to fly in from New York to teach patients how to better "street perform," Van Meir said.
Leaders of the center also told Van Meir that they belonged to a secret "inner Marxist group" led by Newman. But when Van Meir raised questions about Newman's background, she said she was rebuked. "They would say those were political allegations from their enemies."
Patients were also lured into Independence Party tasks, she said. One of Van Meir's patients was recruited after he attended a Newman lecture in New York. "He said he had met with Fulani and her group, and they were all talking about getting this guy Bloomberg elected," Van Meir said. "I thought, 'All they really want him for is political work.' "
Van Meir said she ultimately concluded that the therapy was merely "the bait" and that the goal was to enlist patients in Newman-tied causes. "I believe they will use any way they can to get kids involved. For them, the end justifies the means."
Van Meir later filed a complaint with Georgia officials. "There is an ongoing, active investigation," said Kara Sinkule of the secretary of state's office, which licenses therapists. Van Meir said she also relayed her concerns two years ago to the New York attorney general. Dabby, director of the Atlanta center, denied the clinic had recruited its patients. "We don't do that," said Dabby, who said he is a longtime pal of Newman's.