Perot and Populist Group See Benefits in an Alliance

Perot and Populist Group See Benefits in an Alliance
Frank Bruni

In a loft in downtown Manhattan scattered with mementos of Che Guevara, Dr. Fred Newman paid tribute to a new revolutionary hero, a man he would like to see in the White House next January.

Dr. Newman, the founder of the New Alliance Party, saluted this man as someone who would ”open the door to democracy,” and would ”create a new public philosophy.”

A few hours later and a few miles uptown, Lenora B. Fulani, Dr. Newman’s comrade-in-arms and a perennial pie-in-the-sky candidate, pledged an identical allegiance.

Ms. Fulani ran for President herself as an independent in 1988 and again in 1992, but she said there was no sense in doing so this year because she and Dr. Newman had found another candidate to lead their crusade.

His name is Ross Perot.

Dr. Newman and Ms. Fulani were the principal players in the New Alliance Party, a flamboyant fixture on the margins of national and local politics for a decade and a half. Preaching minority rights and a redistribution of wealth, it amassed millions of dollars in contributions and placed candidates in a variety of elections.

But along the way it was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism for its support of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. It was also accused of operating like a cult, using Dr. Newman’s unusual psychotherapy practice, where patients received therapy in large groups, to enlist political supporters.

Dr. Newman, Ms. Fulani and their supporters have now thrown their energy and organizational skills behind Mr. Perot’s Reform Party. The Reform Party, in turn, has deployed the New Alliance’s experienced troops in the petition and voter registration drives crucial to gaining a place on the ballot in the 50 states.

It is an odd partnership even in a landscape of strange bedfellows. And it marks a new chapter in the controversial careers of Dr. Newman and Ms. Fulani.

Political analysts and scholars say the emergence of Dr. Newman and Ms. Fulani in the Reform Party illustrates the hunger among political outsiders for a new, third party of any kind, and the tricky test facing the Reform Party, whose open-tent policy may be creating an untenable eclectic three-ring circus.

”We welcome anyone with a positive attitude and a desire to create a new political party,” said Russell J. Verney, the national coordinator of the Reform Party and a Perot aide. Mr. Verney said his party has not been bogged down with concerns about the specific ideologies or backgrounds of its recruits, as long as those recruits seem earnest and helpful.

He also said Mr. Perot was aware and appreciative of the role Ms. Fulani and Dr. Newman have played in helping the Reform Party. ”They’re just one voice in a big group of individuals,” Mr. Verney said.

The precise volume of that voice is difficult to gauge. Mr. Verney said he had no idea how many Reform Party foot soldiers were drafted from the New Alliance Party. But he acknowledged a debt to the Patriot Party, a centrist coalition that the New Alliance joined in 1994 when it ceased to exist. Former New Alliance members made up about half of the 110 delegates to the Patriot Party’s conventions in 1994, 1995 and 1996, its national chairman, Nicholas Sabatine, said.

Ms. Fulani and Dr. Newman offered a simple explanation for their support of the Reform Party, which was reported earlier in The Weekly Standard and other publications: creating any third party, to give voters more say than they now have, is more important than any specific policies advocated by Mr. Perot or other party leaders.

”I don’t know what a lot of their opinions are,” Ms. Fulani said. ”I don’t even care what a lot of their opinions are.”

Dr. Newman characterized Mr. Perot as a genuine populist and said the Reform Party would be more responsive to voters in general, and minority voters in particular, than either the Democratic or Republican parties.

”I don’t want to get caught up in portraying Perot as a screaming radical,” Dr. Newman said. ”That would be preposterous, and I would look like a fool. But I think he’s open to the idea of inclusion.”

Some political analysts and independent political leaders, however, say the relationship is simply one of convenience: Ms. Fulani and Dr. Newman hitch a ride to taller podiums and larger venues in the vehicle of a malleable, ill-defined new political party, while the organizers of that party exploit them for help gathering signatures and, possibly, votes from minorities and the left.

Indeed, the value and expertise of Ms. Fulani and her supporters were amply demonstrated in 1988, when she won a place as an independent Presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, and in late 1991, when she raised more than $600,000 for the 1992 Presidential campaign.

”The New Alliance people have a track record of getting things done,” said Hank Morris, a Democratic political consultant in New York. ”If the Reform Party was desperate to get petitions to qualify for the ballots in a lot of different states with a lot of different rules, the New Alliance people probably had the capacity to help them.”

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But they also have a capacity to hurt them, because Ms. Fulani and Dr. Newman trail decades of controversy and provocative alliances.

The political journey of Dr. Newman, a psychotherapist, included a dalliance with Lyndon LaRouche in the early 1970’s. Dr. Newman founded New Alliance in New York City in 1979. When Ms. Fulani, a developmental psychologist, joined it in 1981, she became its mouthpiece and cynosure, a charismatic woman with no modesty about the spotlight.

She ran for lieutenant governor of New York in 1982, for mayor of New York City in 1985, and for so many other offices at so many other times that her visage and name became fixtures on utility posts and bulletin boards in New York City. She also courted powerful minority leaders, including Mr. Farrakhan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

”We could never figure out what the New Alliance agenda was,” said Bill Lynch, a senior aide to former Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York. ”The one common thread was that they were always trying to move in and take over someone else’s political operation.”

Some critics call the New Alliance a cult that used Dr. Newman’s national network of unusual psychotherapy centers, where clients receive short-term therapy in groups as large as 25, to attract and isolate vulnerable young people, then sold them on the idea of participating in, and contributing to, the New Alliance Party as a kind of ”social therapy.”

”That’s not even close to being true,” said Dr. Newman, a 61-year-old white-bearded man who looks like Santa Claus after a bohemian makeover. ”It’s not even in the ball park.”

Dr. Newman and Ms. Fulani, 46, said one of the New Alliance’s chief complaints was the degree to which they felt the Democratic and Republican parties had become aloof from voters and corrupted by self-interest. One of the group’s principal missions, they said, was to nurture independent politics to the point where a third party could be born.

After Mr. Perot’s strong showing in the 1992 Presidential election, Dr. Newman, Ms. Fulani and the leaders of a hodgepodge of other small, mostly centrist political groups sensed that such a day was near. Putting aside sometimes stark ideological differences, and joining many Democrats and Republicans who had voted for Mr. Perot, they met in 1992 and formed the Federation of Independent Parties.

In April 1994, the group became the national Patriot Party, intended to appeal to the kind of people who had supported Mr. Perot. But the heavy presence of New Alliance members at that convention frightened away some moderates.

Mr. Sabatine, the chairman of the Patriot Party, said that Ms. Fulani hardly succeeded in hijacking the new group’s agenda and that its current platform bears few footprints of the left.

The party supports privatization of Social Security and a flat tax, he said, and its candidate in the 1994 campaign for governor of Pennsylvania was a supporter of the right to bear arms and had auctioned off an assault weapon at a campaign fund-raising event.

Leaders of the Patriot Party, lacking a candidate with a high national profile and proven national appeal, strongly lobbied Mr. Perot to spearhead the founding of a new national party that they could support for President this year. When Mr. Perot announced the creation of the Reform Party last fall, one of the first places his aides turned for help was the Patriot Party.

Mr. Verney recalled that in October, when he had to get nearly 90,000 California voters registered to the Reform Party in less than three weeks to qualify for a place on the state’s Presidential ballot, he immediately called Jim Mangia, the chairman of the Patriot Party in California and a former member of New Alliance.

Mr. Mangia reregistered 8,500 Patriot Party members in California as Reform Party members, then leaned on those members to register a few thousand more. His efforts and those of others led to more than 120,000 registrations. Mr. Mangia is now the secretary for the Reform Party of California.

Part of the appeal of the Reform Party to Mr. Mangia and the other former members of New Alliance is the chance to get a wide hearing for their beliefs.

”It’s like the left going into unions controlled by gangsters,” Dr. Newman said. ”You have a chance to make a statement to the rank and file, and then maybe you can do something about the gangsters.”

These words, Dr. Newman stressed, were only an analogy.

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