Mayor Bloomberg yesterday defended his plan for non-partisan municipal elections from an attack by the dean of the city's congressional delegation, Rep. Charles Rangel.
The mayor also distanced himself and his election proposal from Lenora Fulani, a leader of the city's Independence Party. Mr. Rangel, meanwhile, shrugged off a charge of "demagoguery" from the Bloomberg camp.
Mr. Bloomberg's staff traded insults with Mr. Rangel Monday over the congressman's suggestion that Ms. Fulani - a veteran of the political fringe - is guiding Mr. Bloomberg's push for abolishing party primaries and striking party names from the ballot in city elections.
Standing on the steps of City Hall Monday, Mr. Rangel wondered publicly why Mr. Bloomberg would go "to someone like Miss Fulani to guide what's left of his political career."
"I shook hands with Fulani once in my life," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday at a Brooklyn press conference. "I met her once, maybe twice. I've never had a conversation with her. I read the woman's name in the paper."
Ms. Fulani and a small group of activists around her have been political lightning rods in New York for years, once as leaders of the radical New Alliance Party - which was accused by the Anti-Defamation League of "Jewbaiting"- and later in their attempt to move to the mainstream by taking leading roles in the Independence Party, which began as an offshoot of Ross Perot's 1992 presidential run. discussed non-partisan elections or Ms. Fulani.
Mr. Rangel said he was undisturbed that Mr. Bloomberg's communications director, William Cunningham, characterized his Monday remarks as "pure demagoguery."
"I don't pay them any mind," he told The New York Sun. "I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. I don't even know Bill Cunningham."
He repeated his observation that Ms. Fulani is among the mayor's few allies in the politics of non-partisan elections. "I would hate to believe that he's listening to her and not some of his friends," Mr. Rangel said.
Mr. Bloomberg yesterday also defended the election proposal, which is being considered by a Charter Revision Committee he appointed and could go to a public referendum this November.
"When you read the papers every day about the scandals with the court system in particular, non-partisan elections are an idea whose time has come. It's pretty hard to argue that we shouldn't do something to break up the old machines," he said.
While the city change would not affect the election of state Supreme Court justices, a non-partisan system could generally weaken county party organizations.
"I think I'll be able to convince Congressman Rangel this is a good idea," Mr. Bloomberg said.
Mr. Rangel said he would "in all probability" back a Democratic challenger to Mr. Bloomberg in 2005, but that he will refrain from judging the mayor's performance for the moment.
"These are some very, very bad times and I could make critical comments and give advice - but then I have to thank God I don't have that job," he said.