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In the six years that Frank MacKay has been chairman of the state's Independence Partythe influential holder of Row C on New York's ballothe says he never had a substantive conversation with Lenora Fulani, the party's most famous and controversial member.
"It's never been more than 'Hi' and 'Goodbye,' " MacKay told the Voice.
On the other hand, MacKay said that he spent many hours in discussion about tactics and party activities with Fred Newman, the guru-style figure hailed by Fulani and others as the inspiration for their various enterprises, including therapy clinics and the All Stars Project, a city-subsidized nonprofit organization with a multimillion-dollar budget.
MacKay said that when he had important party business to discussincluding the initial recommendation that the party's city chapter endorse Michael Bloomberg for mayorhe was told to talk to Newman, and Newman alone. He said that he was often summoned to meetings at Newman's Greenwich Village townhouse, attended by a coterie of longtime followers.
"There would be this little circle grouped around Newman, hanging on his every word," MacKay said. The group included Cathy Stewart, the chairwoman of the New York County Independence Party; attorneys Harry Kresky and Gary Sinawski; political consultant Jackie Salit; All Stars president Gabrielle Kurlander; and Fulani. MacKay said that he attended some 20 such sessions, and that Newman did most of the talking.
"The meetings would go on for two hours, and the only two talking are me and Newman," MacKay said. "The others only chimed in to agree with Fred."
Newman, 70, has long been a political fringe player, allied at different times with Lyndon LaRouche, Louis Farrakhan, and Pat Buchanan. But he has largely kept in the background, allowing Fulani (whom he once called his "greatest accomplishment") to take the lead. A playwright, Newman also claims authorship of what he describes as "a new science of human development" called "social therapy." But therapists using Newman's teachings have been accused of recruiting patients to their political efforts.
"He's like a Svengali," MacKay said. "He is the one and only decision maker."
MacKay, a former nightclub owner from Suffolk County, was originally elected state party chairman in 2000 with the support of Newman's group. But MacKay ended the alliance this month when he and upstate party officials concluded that Fulani's refusal to disavow past anti-Semitic statements, and her continued self-identification as the party's leader, were hurting the organization.
Why had he worked so long with Newman's group? "The party is about building coalitions," he said. "They seemed cultlike, but not on a Jonestown-type level. You could say we used each other."
The break came September 18 at a crowded meeting near Albany where state committee members voted overwhelmingly to remove Fulani and five allies, including Stewart, Kresky, and Sinawski, from their executive panel. Fulani later dismissed the vote, saying it wouldn't affect her status as a leader in the "Black community." She also noted that her group still holds the reins of the party's autonomous city chapter, which boasts Bloomberg as its mayoral candidate in November. "God bless the mayor," Fulani said during the debate, "he voiced his disagreement with me, and then kept right on going."
Indeed, that same day Bloomberg refused to comment on Fulani's removal, saying he didn't want to get involved in another party's affairs. But he had good reason to avoid offending her. The 59,000 votes he received on the Independence line in 2001 was almost double his narrow margin of victory over Democrat Mark Green. This year, Bloomberg originally ducked comment on Fulani's anti-Semitic statements, saying he hadn't heard them. He later called her views "despicable," but still agreed to take the party's nomination in June. So far in this election, he has pumped $270,000 into the party's city committees.
But when Bloomberg's name originally surfaced as a potential Independence Party candidate in late 2000, MacKay said he was told to discuss it first with Newman.
MacKay said that in December that year he received a call from "a major Republican leader"whom he declined to name on the recordasking about the party's intentions for the 2001 mayoral election. "He said, 'What are your crazies down in New York doing next year in the mayoral race?' " said MacKay.
The GOP figure went on to say that he had "a bona fide billionaire" who was switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party, MacKay said. The would-be candidate "is a long shot, but his only chance is with a second line," MacKay said he was told.
MacKay, who has no role in the Independence Party's city committees, said he quickly called Stewart, the city chairwoman. But when he started to tell her the news, Stewart cut him off.
"She said she couldn't talk to me about it, that I had to talk to Fred. She said someone would reach out to me." A few minutes later, MacKay said he got a call from Newman's personal assistant, who put Newman on the phone.
"I asked Fred what their plans were for the race. He said, 'We are going to see if [Reverend Al] Sharpton grows a pair of balls and starts standing up for himself against the Democrats.' Otherwise, Newman said, 'we're going to run Fulani.' " MacKay said Newman told him he wanted to take advantage of matching funds available under the city's public campaign finance law. "He said, 'We can raise $200,000 and make $1 million,' " according to MacKay.