Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking to distance himself from the state’s fastest growing political party following the latest controversy surrounding one of its leaders, Lenora Fulani, The Jewish Week has learned.
Sources close to Bloomberg’s campaign say he is “actively negotiating” with members of the troubled Liberal Party in an effort to revitalize it in time for November’s election, which would provide the Republican mayor a much-needed second ballot line in an overwhelmingly Democratic town.
In 2001, more than 59,000 votes on the Independence Party line propelled the mayor to victory.But last week Fulani, a member of that party’s executive committee, reaffirmed in a cable TV interview a 1989 remark that “Jews had to sell their souls to acquire Israel and are required to do the dirtiest work of capitalism —to function as mass murderers of people of color — in order to keep it.”
Insisting she did not understand why some considered that quote from a theater review in the New Alliance newspaper anti-Semitic, Fulani told NY1 host Dominic Carter “it’s raising issues that I think need to be explored.”
A campaign source said Tuesday that “as a Jew, the mayor was beyond offended by these remarks, and as a result we are actively negotiating with the Liberal Party for a different ballot line.”
The state chair of the Liberal Party, Henry Stern, said he had not recently spoken to Bloomberg’s campaign but cited an ongoing “atmosphere of mutual respect” between the mayor and the party.
On the mayor’s weekly radio show last Friday, Bloomberg called Fulani’s remarks “phenomenally offensive” and “reprehensible,” but insisted he was seeking the support of the diverse Independence Party, not Fulani.
Earlier that week, though, he had appeared onstage with her at a Lincoln Center benefit for her All Stars theater project, the nonprofit youth group that last year produced a widely panned play about the 1991 Crown Heights riots in which chasidim were depicted as provoking the violence.
Bloomberg has taken heat for his association with Fulani, a former Marxist activist, dating back to 2001, when she commented that the 9-11 attacks were a result of “how America positioned itself in the world.”
And last week was not the first time Fulani stood by her “mass murderers” remark. In 2000, after she was denounced by then-Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, Fulani said she had written it “in the context … of teaching people about the pitfalls of being organized by nationalism.”
But Bloomberg had never tried to sever ties with Fulani. Instead, he gave her wing of the party $250,000 last year to fund a volunteer registration effort. In 2003 he had appointed Harry Kresky, a lawyer close to Fulani, to the city’s Charter Revision Commission.
“He spends a lot of time with her, he is close with her and he treats her like she is a leader of this city,” said one of the Democrats seeking to unseat Bloomberg, Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Another candidate, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, released a statement calling on Bloomberg to “stand up for what is right” and renounce the party “as long as Ms. Fulani leads it with divisiveness.”
It is unclear if the issue will still be on voters’ minds in the fall. “Last time I checked, Fulani’s name isn’t on the ballot,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “It all depends on who his opponent is.”
But the affair is causing ripples. Councilman Simcha Felder, a Democrat who hosted the mayor at a breakfast in his Borough Park district last week and has twice accompanied him to Israel, said that although he believes Bloomberg should be re-elected, he expressed to the mayor that “candidates should not run with the Independence Party until [Fulani] repudiates her comments.”
Felder also noted that other elected officials, including critics of the mayor, also had run on the Independence line.
Weiner and Miller both sought and won that nomination in races before 2002, when Fulani became a member of the party’s executive board. She was, however, an elected member of the party’s larger statewide committee during those races.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, who is supporting Bloomberg’s re-election, on Monday called on Bloomberg to use his influence to oust Fulani from the party’s leadership with the help of other elected officials, such as Sen. Charles Schumer and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who have won the party’s support.
“He shouldn’t hesitate to take the line, and then combine with all the other people to unseat her,” Koch told The Jewish Week. Koch also suggested that Bloomberg cultivate the Liberal Party line as an alternative to Independence, which is now the state’s third largest party with more than 300,000 members.
The Independence Party’s state chairman, Frank MacKay, said he did not believe support for Fulani’s opinions on Jews and the Middle East were widespread among the 25 members of the executive committee.
“My opinions are the polar opposite,” said MacKay, who lives in Suffolk County. “I believe there is no international issue more important than our relationship with Israel.” While noting that the party does not formulate positions on social or international issues, and is focused mainly on electoral reform, he said that in his own “unscientific poll, I doubt you would find more than three people who agree with her. But it’s hard to get the press to understand that she is not running the party because she gets so much publicity.”