By Tom Robbins
The Village Voice, June 21, 2005
Mayor Mike’s independence party friends can put him on the couch
There was a post-stadium dip in the polls for Michael Bloomberg last week. But the Republican mayor still has a potential job-saving ace in the hole, the same one he had in 2001: a jowly, white-bearded fellow named Fred Newman.
Fred who? That would be Dr. Fred Newman, of course, renowned founder of Social Therapy, the psychological practice dedicated to “a new science of human development,” as he modestly proclaims it. Still lost? Well, you must have heard of Fred Newman, author of half a dozen books, and considered by many (OK, by many of his followers) to be the philosophical heir to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Lev Vygotsky (you know, Vygotsky, the great Soviet constructivist psychologist).
Utterly lost? What about Fred Newman the well-known playwright, whose works include Lenin’s Breakdown, Risky Revolutionary, and the hilarious All My Cadre, not to mention The Therapy Plays: Newman’s Postmodern Follies? That one just finished a successful month-long run at the Castillo Theatre (founded by Newman), which is partners with the All Stars Project (co-founded by Newman), which is the nonprofit youth performance organization housed in a glittering new West 42nd Street headquarters purchased and built with $8.35 million in tax-free bonds provided by the administration of, yes, Michael Bloomberg.
Which brings us to that other important hat worn by Dr. Newman, that of state committee member of the Independence Party, the political group that holds Row C on the ballot and which provided Bloomberg 59,000 votes and his 2001 margin of victory. This month, the party announced it would once again be proud to carry the mayor’s name for re-election.
Lenora Fulani, whose past anti-Semitic comments got her in hot water this spring, gets most of the ink and the airtime where the Independence Party is concerned. But she is a longtime and loyal disciple of Fred Newman.
“She is one of my life’s proudest accomplishments,” Newman told an interviewer a few years ago. “This man is someone I love dearly,” Fulani said in turn of her mentor.
After years spent on the political fringes, the two orchestrated a takeover of the Independence Party in the mid 1990s. They promptly found themselves courted by people like Bloomberg, George Pataki, and Charles Schumer in search of a second ballot line.
The party announced its latest Bloomberg endorsement at a reception held on June 5 at City Hall restaurant on Duane Street, attended by some 150 party faithful and a throng of media. Newman, 69, briefly addressed the troops, but his logic and sentence structure are sometimes hard to follow, and the press kept its focus on Fulani, asking her one more time if she regretted saying a few years back that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color.”
Fulani’s comments were actually a slightly softer echo of Newman’s own words, uttered in 1985, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has long watchdogged his efforts: “The Jew, the dirty Jew . . . ,” Newman said then, “a self-righteous dehumanizer and murderer of people of color.”
Bloomberg has denounced Fulani’s words as “despicable.” But he’s otherwise stuck by Fulani and Newman, appearing at their fundraising events and donating $250,000 of his own money last year to the Independence Party. The mayor has also had an open-door policy for Fulani et al. at City Hall, and the All Stars Project is now seeking a city contract to provide after-school care (“Fulani’s City Hall Push,” Voice, June 8).
The Anti-Defamation League thinks that’s a bad idea, as do many others who have witnessed Newman’s theories at work. They say that while his neo-Marxist philosophizing and zany plays appear comical from the outside, there’s very little amusing about his rigid orthodoxy when viewed up close, with the occasional anti-Semitic outburst being only part of the problem.
One of those who has recently made her complaints public is a Los Angeles-based theatrical producer named Molly Hardy, who was hired last year by a neighborhood clinic in L.A. run by a longtime Newman associate. Hardy thought she was being hired to produce neighborhood theater but soon discovered that her job was to produce youth talent shows on the West Coast like those currently promoted by Newman and Fulani’s city-subsidized All Stars Project.
The talent shows date back to the early 1980s, when Newman’s political organization, then called the International Workers Party, decided that providing venues for kids to sing and dance could aid its other organizing. The shows are not aimed at developing talent so much as getting kids to “perform”—an all-important buzzword in Newman’s theories.
Last June, Hardy was flown to New York to receive training at the All Stars Project about how to put together a talent show. “It was more like controlling me than training me,” said Hardy.
She received a 12-page “Licensing and Policy Manual.” It spells out, in minute detail, how All Stars talent shows must be conducted. Each licensee must undergo two to three years of training by national All Stars staff, including trips to the New York headquarters. It also lists the minimum number of seats for each show (500), number of volunteers (45-50), clipboards (75), rubber gloves (two boxes), and tubes of Super Glue (two), along with a couple dozen other must-have items.
More troubling to Hardy were the provisions listed under “All Stars Talent Show Network Tenets” that said all participants and audience members were required to pay admission fees. That was Newman’s Social Therapy peeping through—you gotta pay for what you want. Hardy was sent to observe a talent show on June 26, 2004, at Walton High School in the Bronx, where she saw the rules put into practice. There, a mother with three young girls in tow arrived at the school after taking the subway from their home in Queens, eager to participate. The All Stars organizers told the mother that she had to pay $22—a $5 fee for each of her daughters, and $7 for her to sit in the audience. “The mother didn’t have the money, and they wouldn’t let her in,” Hardy told the Voice. She said she watched as an All Stars representative approached the woman and said, “What did you hear the person on the phone tell you to do?”
The mother answered that she heard the figure $5, but that she thought that was the price for the whole family. According to Hardy, the All Stars representative, a white woman with a lengthy association with Newman, responded, “You need to listen so you don’t perform like a poor, uneducated black woman.”
“The woman got real mad,” Hardy said. “She said, ‘I am going to report you.’ The kids were crying. I turned to two of the volunteers with me and said, ‘I could never do that.’ One of the volunteers said, ‘I know. It is really hard at first. You get used to it.’ ”
What made the scene more unreal, Hardy said, was that only 11 kids showed up for the show. “They had 50 volunteers, all with these red vests on, and only 11 kids in a theater that holds 500.”
Back in Los Angeles, Hardy filed complaints with state officials and the FBI, charging that the clinic that employed her had improperly funneled money it received from the government to All Stars. She also relayed her criticisms to the office of New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer. The office, which said it had reviewed past complaints about All Stars without finding violations, said it had yet to receive Hardy’s information.
All Stars officials refused to discuss Hardy’s allegations or any other matters. “We’ll have no comment for your story,” a spokesman for the group said late Friday. He gave his name as Bill O’Reilly. Wait a minute, he was asked, is that your real name? “Honest. We just don’t talk to The Village Voice,” he said.