Moments after Lenora Fulani and five close allies lost a lop-sided vote booting them from the executive committee of the state’s Independence Party yesterday, she was asked what effect it had on the New York City party chapters, where she and her adherents still hold sway.
Fulani held up her right hand, forming a goose-egg sign with her fingers. “Zero,” she grinned.
Leaders of the party who engineered Sunday’s purge during a five-hour meeting at the Best Western motel near Albany Airport agreed. “We have local autonomy,” said state chairman Frank MacKay. “This doesn’t affect the county committees.”
Fulani’s ongoing clout with the city’s branch of the party means that Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s reelection campaign team will still be dealing directly with her crew, including ace political director Cathy Stewart, and election attorney Harry Kresky, both of whom were voted off the board Sunday.
So far Bloomberg has contributed some $260,000 to the party’s city coffers for the 2005 election. More contributions are expected in coming weeks. Bloomberg won the 2001 election with 59,000 votes cast for him on the Independence Party’s Row C. The party’s line is considered crucial to Bloomberg, a former Democrat, as a means of offering anti-GOP voters an alternative to voting for him on the Republican line in November.
While former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, along with Ed Koch, and Al D’Amato, publicly called for Fulani’s removal, Bloomberg ducked the debate. On Sunday, he told reporters that since he’s not a party member he shouldn’t get involved. “I
don’t think I should be commenting on somebody else’s party,” said the mayor.
MacKay and several upstate party leaders said the ouster was sparked by Fulani’s refusal to separate her party position from allegedly anti-Semitic remarks that have infuriated Jews and others. The Fulani controversy had damaged the organization, said Tony Orsini, an
executive committee member from Erie County. “It’s starting to affect us in Western New York,” he told the meeting.
“This isn’t pleasant, but it’s been percolating for some time,” said Jeffrey Graham, mayor of Watertown in Jefferson County near Lake Ontario. “Upstate, we say enough is enough. We’re tired of hearing about it.”
Fulani’s forces aimed their harshest comments at MacKay, who endured a steady onslaught of hoots, hollers, and personal attacks during the meeting. “Anyone who thinks I’m enojoying myself is out of their minds,” MacKay, who lives in Suffolk County, told the gathering. “But trust me, [Fulani’s remarks] are offensive to Jewish members, to other groups, to Americans.”
In a weighted vote by the party’s county chapters, 76 percent of its members voted to remove Fulani, Kresky, and Stewart. Votes against the measure came almost solely from New York City committees that Fulani backers still control. Also ousted were Fulani allies Jessie Fields, a
candidate for Manhattan Borough President on the Independence line, attorney Gary Sinawski, and party treasurer Debra Holland.
At the party conclave, Fulani’s group lost an initial parliamentary procedure motion to hold separate votes on the removal of each of the committee members by the same 3-1 margin. After that loss, the Fulani’s forces appeared resigned to the outcome.
While numerous pro-Fulani speakers, many of whom were bused to the meeting in three white vans, took the floor to condemn the removal motion, no further serious tactical moves were made.
Asked why they hadn’t fought harder, Kresky responded: “We did everything we could.”
But the Fulani group, which follow the teachings of controversial so-called “social therapy” guru Fred Newman, may also be banking that Sunday’s vote will create a public perception that they are now effectively removed from the party’s entire apparatus, including the city organization, thus allowing people angered by Fulani’s remarks to vote on their line in the November election.
That view got a boost from a New York Times account of the vote which said that Fulani’s ouster “removes a stumbling block” from Bloomberg’s campaign.