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Lunch With Dr. Lenora Fulani


Last Friday, in Manhattan I had a two-hour meeting with Dr. Lenora Fulani of the Independence Party Of New York City. At a quiet cafe in midtown we discussed everything from her joy at having recently seen Minister Louis Farrakhan to her continued disappointment over the relationship between the Black political establishment and the Democratic Party. But of course, no subject was covered in as much depth as the recent New York City mayoral race. It is a subject that Dr. Fulani and I have talked about since last summer and one for which she has harbored high expectations - expectations that were largely fulfilled. No one in our viewing audience should forget our BlackElectorate.com article in late July which detailed Dr. Fulani's motives for supporting the man who would eventually win the election for Mayor - Michael Bloomberg. Dr. Fulani, in influencing the outcome of the election, has demonstrated an immense ability to play political chess.

Our meeting began with a joint reading of Ms. Fulani's copy of Friday's New York Daily News. The paper had a feature article on Dr. Fulani and the role that she played in Mr. Bloomberg's election. Although one can imagine the consternation that The Daily News experienced in having to do so, the article is a reasonable representation of the high probability that without Dr. Fulani's support, Mr. Bloomberg would not have won the election. This is true because of Ms. Fulani's ability to pull support from both White and Black Independents as well as disgruntled Black Democrats. The numbers don't lie. Mr. Bloomberg won over 59,000 votes on the Independence Party's line while he defeated Mark Green, the Democratic nominee, by only 43,000 votes. In addition to the pure Independence vote, Ms. Fulani influenced a suprisingly high Black turnout for the liberal- Democrat turned Republican billionaire. She contributed to a near 25% voter turnout for Mr. Bloomberg - roughly 80,500 voters. By comparison, Mayor Giuliani, in 1997, received 20% of the Black vote - 57,500 votes. Arguably, Mr. Bloomberg's strong showing represents a 40% increase in the number of Black voters who have broken ranks with the Democratic Party.

As we set aside the Daily News article which Dr. Fulani generally accepted as accurate (with a few minor quibbles) we moved into a discussion of the factors that contributed to such an "unexpected" break with the Democratic Party, for Black voters. Dr. Fulani agreed with the premise and argument that I put forth in our analytical commentary regarding the race entitled, "Bloomberg's Unlikely Black Alliance. Can It Win Him 25% of the Black Vote?" She agreed that it was a combination of her outright support of Mr.Bloomberg; William Tatum's decision to put the weight of The Amsterdam News behind Mr. Bloomberg; and Rev. Al Sharpton's decision to not campaign for Mr. Green that made the difference. We joked that the "stars were in alignment" for this seemingly once-in-a-lifetime event. But she told me that she disagreed with the popular notion that Rev. Sharpton's "boycott" of the election was the determining factor in Mr. Green's defeat. She explained that although Rev. Sharpton played an important role, he would have looked like an island all to himself if he had come out in support of Mr. Green and would not have had the necessary coattails to ensure support for the Democratic candidate. She described the sudden exodus of Black Democratic support for Mr. Green in the last days prior to the election. At the top of the list of defections was the endorsement of Mr. Bloomberg by Black Music station 107.5FM WBLS and Black talk-radio 1190AM WLIB. Both WBLS and WLIB are owned by Harlem patriarch Mr. Percy Sutton. Dr. Fulani argued that by the time Mr. Sutton and opinion leaders like Conrad Muhammad made public their support of Mr. Bloomberg known, the tide had turned decisively in favor of Mr. Bloomberg receiving a quarter of the Black vote. And she believes that there was nothing that Rev. Sharpton could have done to prevent that outcome.

Dr. Fulani expressed to me her amusement at the efforts of some inside and outside the Black community, to ascribe motives for her support of Mr. Bloomberg. She said that the efforts, which largely center around whether or not she will receive a job or various forms of patronage from a Bloomberg administration, were insulting to the Black electorate but grew out of the reality that many Black politicians have sold out the legitimate aspirations of their supporters and constituents for the sake of political crumbs - jobs, appointments and patronage. She said that unlike other Black politicians, she was not interested in personally benefitting from access and patronage as a result of her work on behalf of Mr. Bloomberg. I mentioned to Dr. Fulani that the patronage phenomenon was certainly not unique to the relationship between Blacks and the Democratic Party. I mentioned to her the relationship between Blacks and the Republican Party under Presidents McKinley, Taft and Roosevelt and how the office of the Postmaster General, at that time, was a vehicle to "reward" Blacks for loyal partisan support. She nodded her head in agreement. I told her that if the appearance of patronage were avoided, her skillful maneuvering during this campaign could represent a paradigm shift for Black political activity.

We discussed her political future a bit and my impression is that Dr. Fulani, rather than looking to parlay her success in New York City into a national effort, will comfortably look to influence elections and the political process throughout New York state. She will probably continue to endorse candidates that she may help to groom (several prominent members of the Black cultural and political community have asked her to advise them on their future political activities) inside and outside of her party. And I look for her to play a role in the upcoming New York gubernatorial race. She also will look to make members of the Congressional Black Caucus more responsive to third-parties and the issues they represent. Although some CBC members already seek her counsel and support in private, Dr. Fulani is looking to engage the Black electorate in a public discussion over the relationship between its elected officials and the two-party system. I also look for some healthy, intense and robust exchanges between Dr. Fulani and Rev. Sharpton in coming months - in private and public. I think they both realize that they are stronger united than divided, but working out the details of a political marriage can be very difficult. Perhaps with patience and honesty the two can agree on the appropriate political partnership and by 2004 with a possible Rev. Sharpton for-president campaign, Dr. Fulani will again be fully engaged in a national political effort.

For what it is worth, after years of thinking she should seek political office, I did advise Ms. Fulani that she not enter electoral politics as a candidate for office, but rather continue her evolution in the capacity as a political power-broker. I told her that I see her as the general of Black politics - more of a strategist than a pure politician or spokesperson. She smiled. I detect that she may agree with me but I think only God knows for sure what she will do next.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

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