Lenora Branch Fulani has spent almost three decades fighting to end the two-party system and create a “viable, national, pro-socialist” party for those who feel ignored by the Democratic and Republican parties. Fulani ran for the presidency in 1988 and 1992.
She grew up in Chester, PA and watched her father die because, she said, no ambulance would come to her poor, African-American neighborhood. This, along with the firing of a gay choir director at her church, shaped her desire to address injustice.
A scholarship student at Long Island’s Hofstra University, she graduated in 1971 and then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the City University of New York, where she was much influenced by Dr. Fred Newman, who would serve as both a mentor and her campaign manager. While a guest researcher at Rockefeller University, she joined Newman’s New York Institute for Social Therapy and Research and his New Alliance Party (NAP).
Fulani became the party’s most prominent -- and controversial -- spokesperson. In 1982, she was its candidate for lieutenant governor of New York; in 1985, she ran as it nominee for mayor of New York City; and the following year, was the NAP’s candidate for governor. These failed races made no difference, as she ran for president in 1988, declaring “a militant crusade for fair elections and democracy…with the goal of changing the electoral process.”
It was the same election in which two others ran for the Democratic nomination: Reverend Jesse Jackson mounted the first serious candidacy of an African American, while Congresswoman Patrica Schroeder emphasized feminist issues. With a base in neither camp, Fulani nonetheless became the first woman and first African American to appear on the ballot in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. With her poll standings never high enough for participation in televised debates, she won 225,000 votes, or 0.2% of the November total. Although infinitesimal, this was the highest number of votes for a female presidential candidate in a general election.
Jackson won 1200 delegates to the Democratic convention that nominated Michael Dukakis, and Fulani joined other blacks in being outraged that he did not ask Jackson to join his ticket – which in a landslide to Republican George H.W. Bush. Undeterred, Fulani again ran for New York governor in 1990, when an endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan probably hurt more than it helped. Fulani’s last race was in 1992, when she received only 0.07% of the vote in the general election won by Bill Clinton.
Third-party candidate Ross Perot also lost that year, and Fulani briefly joined him in an effort to create a “multiracial, pro-reform, national political party.” She co-founded and chaired the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, and in 2004, spearheaded ChIP, “Choosing an Independent President.” It was ChIP that convinced Ralph Nadar to run as an independent candidate for president; the 90,000+ votes that Nadar won in Florida cost Democrat Al Gore the White House, as the Supreme Court gave the 537 disputed ballots (and all of Florida’s electoral votes) to Republican George W. Bush.
Fulani went to court more than ten times within two decades in her crusade to open ballots to independents, protect the rights of radicals and minorities, and challenge state regulations that limit third parties. She felt that she achieved a goal in 2005, when 47% of black voters in New York City broke with their traditional Democratic Party to help elect Independent Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire endorsed by Fulani and the Independence Party of New York, as mayor.
Leonora Fulani has combined a career as a psychologist with a life of activism. She explains, “I identify very strongly with the outsiders. I am a leader who has chosen to be outside corporate American and inside the real mainstream—with my people and other outsiders.”Want to learn more about women who have ran for president? Click here to view NWHM's exhibit.
Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Women Who Ran for President"