Mayor Denounces Ally's Remarks on Israel

By Winnie Hu, New York Times, 16 April 2005

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday condemned inflammatory remarks about Jews attributed to a political ally, Lenora B. Fulani, in the late 1980's, saying that he found them to be “phenomenally offensive.”

But even as Mr. Bloomberg sought to distance himself from Dr. Fulani, a high-profile official with the Independence Party, he suggested that the remarks represented only her personal opinion—and not that of the party's members. And, he added, he would continue to seek the party's endorsement.

The Independence Party is the state's third largest political party with 325,000 registered voters, including nearly 100,000 in New York City, according to party records. Getting his name on its ballot line is particularly important for Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican running for re-election in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

“Don't make any mistake about it, I find these remarks phenomenally offensive,” the mayor said on his weekly radio show on WABC-AM. “I couldn't disagree more. I think an awful lot of members of the Independence Party do as well and others who've accepted the party's endorsement—not her endorsement—the party's endorsement. I think that they should stand up and say so as well.”

The controversy stems from remarks attributed to Dr. Fulani nearly two decades ago, in which she said Jews “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel” and had to “function as mass murderers of people of color” to keep it. The Anti-Defamation League said in a 1995 report that Dr. Fulani's remarks were in an article written for a publication connected with the now-defunct New Alliance Party. She was a two-time presidential candidate for the party.

On Wednesday night, Dr. Fulani was asked about the remarks during an interview on NY1 News, and she refused to disavow them.

Mr. Bloomberg, when asked about Dr. Fulani's comments at his regular press briefing on Thursday, initially said he could not hear the question. Then he said, “I don't know what she's referring to so you'll have to ask her.” Aides said the mayor had not been briefed on her remarks before he was asked about them.

But in a marked change a day later, Mr. Bloomberg used his radio show to repeatedly denounce Dr. Fulani's position. “I disagree with it violently, so of course I would encourage her to rethink the position,” he said.

Dr. Fulani's comments also drew harsh criticism from other politicians who have previously received the Independence Party's endorsement.

During a reception for the New York Board of Rabbis, Gov. George E. Pataki said yesterday, “I think the Independence Party is an outstanding organization, but at the same time I think that we all have to reject any, any hints of anti-Semitism coming from anyone and I certainly do that and urge others as well.”

Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said yesterday that Mr. Spitzer “was shocked by the comments and viewed them as reprehensible and wrong and outrageous.”

He added that Mr. Spitzer, who plans to run for governor next year, would evaluate Dr. Fulani's role in the party when deciding whether to seek the party's endorsement again.

One politician who remained above the fray was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has said she would not take the Independence Party's endorsement unless it disassociated itself from Dr. Fulani.

Yesterday, Dr. Fulani released a written statement suggesting that her comments could be used to improve communication among different groups in the city. “I am not an anti-Semite,” she wrote. “Moreover, I have worked endless hours to engage anti-Semitism, racism and other bigoted points of view. I remain optimistic that we can go forward, even with the kind of opportunism that goes on during the political season here in New York.”

Jacqueline Salit, an Independence Party spokeswoman, said that Dr. Fulani had merely expressed her opinion on an issue. She said the party's members did not necessarily share Dr. Fulani's views.

“We don't take positions on international issues, and more than that, we don't dictate to members of the party what their positions should be,” she said. “Members of the party have very diverse opinions.”