The Independence Party is an affiliate in the U.S. state of New York of the Independence Party of America. The party was founded in 1991 by Dr. Gordon Black, Tom Golisano and Laureen Oliver from Rochester, New York, and acquired ballot status in 1994. Although often associated with Ross Perot, as the party came to prominence in the wake of Perot's 1992 presidential campaign, it was created prior to Perot's run. As of November 2006, there were 345,957 members statewide.
Since the summer of 2005, the party has had an internal factional struggle between non-ideological party members and leaders in much of New York and Long Island, and followers of Marxist psychotherapist Fred Newman based in New York City.
In the elections for Governor of New York in 1994, 1998, and 2002, the Independence Party's candidate was businessman Tom Golisano. He had been the most important person in the party's founding. His personal wealth enabled him to mount well-funded campaigns. In each election, he finished in third place, far ahead of all other candidates not running on the Democratic or Republican ballot lines. Because Golisano received more than 50,000 votes each time, the party was guaranteed an automatic ballot line for the following four years. It has enjoyed the third line on the ballot continuously since the end of the 1998 gubernatorial election cycle.
In the 2000 elections, Newman initially backed Reform Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, but then he switched to Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin. This resulted from squabbles between Newman's faction and the Buchanan campaign. The Independence Party chose Hagelin as the nominee over Ralph Nader While the Independence Party considered New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for its U.S. Senate nomination, when he declined to run, the party ended up endorsing party member and Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham against Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rick Lazio.
In 2001 the Independence Party endorsed Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire Republican candidate for mayor of New York City. He offered each of the five county organizations within the city $5000, which all but Staten Island (Richmond County), still led by Hamilton, accepted. Bloomberg also created his own independent ballot line, which he named the Students First Party, which was merged with the Independence Party's line on the ballot. The votes he received on the combined Independence Party/Students First Party ballot line, which counted toward his total under New York's fusion rule, exceeded his margin of victory over Democrat Mark J. Green, who also appeared on the Working Families Party line. It is theoretically possible, though not necessarily probable, that Bloomberg would have lost the election without the Independence Party endorsement.
The following year, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (with agreement by the state) approved an $8.7 million bond to help finance a new headquarters for a youth charity controlled by Newman and Lenora Fulani, Newman's chief spokesperson and a prominent Independence Party public figure. The media characterized approval of the bond as a reward from the mayor as well as incentive by Governor George Pataki (see below) to obtain Newman and Fulani's support for his re-election campaign.
In 2002, Golisano sought the Independence Party's gubernatorial nomination, for the third time. Incumbent governor Pataki initially won the endorsement of the Newman-influenced IP state convention, with the full support of party Chair Frank MacKay. In May (only four days after final approval of the IDA bond), Golisano, supported by IP founder Laureen Oliver and many of the original founding members, launched a primary challenge. Golisano supporters in the Conservative Party also launched a write-in primary in that party. In September, Golisano lost the Conservative write-in primary, but won narrowly to achieve ballot listing on the Independence line.
During the primary campaign, Golisano charged that Pataki's supporters had filed thousands of fraudulent Independence Party registrations in an attempt to marginalize upstate New York's already limited power in state government and to undermine Golisano's threat to the Republican power base. In the primary battle and in the general election, MacKay and followers of Newman within the IP, including Fulani, supported Pataki. In the November 2002 general election, Golisano retained row C for the Independence party by polling 14% of the popular vote. (Golisano later changed his own party registration to Republican, but finally decided not to seek nomination to succeed then-retiring Governor Pataki.)
In 2004 the Independence Party endorsed Ralph Nader in his independent bid for president. Nader also petitioned for an independent line, which he named the Peace and Justice Party. Nader received 84,247 votes on the Independence Party line as opposed to 15,626 on Peace and Justice
With the approach of the 2005 elections for municipal offices, Bloomberg gave the Newman-controlled Manhattan branch of the Independence Party $250,000 to fund a phone bank seeking to recruit volunteers for Bloomberg's re-election campaign. On May 28 2005, the Independence Party endorsed Michael Bloomberg for re-election. Bloomberg won by a wide margin. During the campaign a consulting outfit controlled by the Newman wing of the party received an additional $180,000 as a Bloomberg campaign subcontractor, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
In September 2005 the brewing struggle resulted in the party's state executive committee's ousting Fulani and other Newman followers. The catalyst was a media controversy over Fulani's refusal to publicly disavow her now-infamous 1989 statement that Jews are "mass murderers of people of color." Seventy-five percent of all state committee members supported this move.
But Fulani — whose comrades called the purge racist, sexist, McCarthyistic and even antisemitic — continues to be active in the party's Newman-controlled New York City machine. The New York County chairperson Cathy Stewart and party strategist Jacqueline Salit run it on Newman's behalf. The New York City organization remains the most influential of the party's factions because of its small army of hard-working volunteers and the financial support it receives from prominent politicians and Newman's own political and psychotherapy base.
On February 4 2006, the Executive Committee of the Independence Party of the State of New York dissolved the Interim County Organizations of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, which had been controlled by Newman and Fulani. The Committee's resolution stated the action was a result of the antisemitism and racism espoused by Fulani and Newman, which are antithetical to the principles of the Independence Party. One week later they attempted to suspend the chair of the Staten Island IP, a member of the Fulani group. The resulting court action allowed the chair to stay in office, but also gave the opposing faction the right to make party endorsements for several local offices in the 2006 election. Although the "Newmanites" still control the Manhattan county organization, the recent revolt has probably ended their ability to influence the selection of the party's nominees anywhere in New York State except the borough of Manhattan.
On June 4 2006, the State Chairman Frank MacKay started dis-enrollment hearings against Fred Newman, Lenora Fulani, and almost 140 of their followers, in order to seize control of the New York City county organizations. Three different judges, in three different counties, repudiated MacKay’s efforts to dis-enroll Fulani, Newman and the other 140 New York City activists. In July 2006, more than 4,000 New York City Independence Party members created duly constituted County Committees in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, so that the State Chair could not take away local control in New York City.
In November 2006, Eliot Spitzer, running for Governor, received over 190,661 votes on the Independence Party line, more than enough to secure the party's spot on Row "C" for the next four years. Also, 19% of those votes were produced by the New York City organization. Additionally, in 2006, the IP had its first member elected to the New York Legislature with the election of Timothy P. Gordon in the lower house State Assembly, who also ran with the Democratic endorsement.