COUNTY GOP FAILURE 2002
After decades wherein, Congressman Charles Rangel enjoyed a virtual lock on the Republican Party ballot in Harlem’s 15th Congressional District, the New York Republican County Committee in 2002 had a clear opportunity to nominate a member of their own party to the converted Harlem seat and competing against incumbent Congressman Rangel. There was broad speculation and anxiety in various Republican Party quarters at the advent of this unprecedented opportunity for party building. Alton Chase a leader in the grassroots activist wing of the GOP was particularly hopeful, because he was in the forefront of the protracted political battles that preceded this positive development. While virtually every local Republican had their respective opinion on how to move the party forward in the new millennia, the bottom line was what the New York Republican County Committee would do at the end of the day.
Congressman Rangel used his Republican Party ballot status for 30 years and had ironically become the chief Republican Party basher with his provocative political rhetoric and partisan political antics in his capacity of dean of the New York Democratic Congressional delegation. Chase predicted that the ultimate decision would be a political one, therefore, we should not jump to any conclusions! The political patronage arrangement has not come to a halt, and we have no idea what county’s political disposition is relative to the ballot scenario moving forward. The question is what will the county do with opportunity for an internal political coarse correction, or whether the ultimate destination of the ballot will be a clandestine political sleight of hand maneuver with no party building objectives.
Ultimately, in 2002 the New York Republican County Committee gave the congressional designation in Harlem’s 15th CD to Dr. Jesse Fields, an official of the Independence Party, reportedly controlled by Dr. Lenora Fulani. Many longtime local Republicans were irate because of the obvious political snub and apparent compromise of GOP values and standards that were compromised in the political deal with the Independence Party. But the controversy began because Mr. Conrad Tillard, a/k/a/ (Conrad Muhammad,) the former minister of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque No. 7 and his GOP supporters were lobbying for his designation as the Republican Party’s congressional standard bearer.
The popular and charismatic Conrad had begun evaluating both political parties as well as the prospect of running for public office a couple of years earlier. The advent of Conrad Tillard as a GOP Congressional candidate generated shockwaves within the leadership of the local party but both political parties were reacting. The word on the street began to generate local curiosity, if not a groundswell, and much local and state political interest in the Republican Party began percolating. Republican Governor Pataki’s reelection campaign quickly embraced the prospect of Conrad’s candidacy and reached out to grassroots political activists associated with his (Conrad) campaign for cross endorsements. The high profile public reelection endorsement of black community leaders included Conrad Tillard, and the chairman of the GOP Grassroots Republican Taskforce, community and political activists from around the city, and about twenty prominent celebrities of varying genre. Conspicuously missing from the statewide assemblage of black political leadership on stage of the Pataki campaign were the uptown black Republican district leaders and New York Republican County operatives, who peppered the hundreds that constituted the audience.
On the contrary, the leadership of the New York Republican County registered in the strongest terms possible that they had a major problem with the notion of Conrad as the party’s congressional designee, following a cursory interview with him. Consequently, the uptown black GOP leadership, who formally introduced Conrad to the county as a prospective designee, jumped ship and lined up behind the county chairman State Assemblyman John Ravitz. Somehow Ravitz came to the conclusion that Independence Party official Dr. Jesse Fields was the best designee for the party. Not only did Conrad upset the County Republican Party leadership, but the energy associated with his (Conrad) proposed campaign smoked Congressman Rangel’s people out, who made direct inquires to the campaign organization. Although the political deal between the Congressman and County Chairman and State Senator and GOP county chairman Roy Goodman, who preceded Ravitz, it is a foregone conclusion that his (Ravitz) ascent to county leader included reinforcing the political status quo, with their favorite congressman.
Excitement was resonating in the media as well as the community concerning Conrad’s planned entry into the congressional race. The New York Press published a comprehensive interview, (July 17-23, Volume 15, number 29) with Conrad that also included Congressman Rangel and GOP County Chairman John Ravitz. The extensive piece was headlined: “A Great Race in Harlem- Will Hip-hip Minister Conrad Muhammad go from the NOI to the GOP” by Adam Heimlich to justify resorting to an officer of the Independence Party, in general, and Dr. Jesse Fields in particular, while ignoring local registered Republicans to head-up the county ballot. Dr. Fields and her associate Dr. Fulani have been mired in controversy in the context of alleged anti-sematic statements and the lesbian and gay, transgender and bi-sexual agenda, which is in direct contradiction with the values and standards of the Republican Party. Ravitz, without question, compromised the GOP by insisting the county maintained that a primary was not a health process for the local party.
According to Heimlich’s piece, Ravitz said there are reasons why the GOP is very wary of Conrad, and none of them are secrets – “Conrad knows about the problems with some of those things that he said in the past. I believe he’s is going to have to address and deal with them. I think that all of us who are in public life have to be held accountable for our words, and there are a lot of things that Conrad still needs to work with-people who are still feeling very hurt about some of those comments.” Ravitz, said.
Some astute political analysis suggest that Ravitz made a serious miscalculation with the Fields and Muhammad scenarios and may be held accountable for compromising the values and growth of the party, should he seek public office in the future in the city. Meanwhile Keisha Morrisey said, “I will continue undaunted with my efforts to help grow the party at the grassroots level…
The Amsterdam News published an article by Yusef Salaam “Will Hip-Hop Minister Conrad Muhammad Go Republican?”
Will Minister Conrad Muhammad, a registered Democrat, switch to the party of the elephant? That was the question buzzing through the audience at a ‘News and Views’ forum and award event this weekend at Windows Over Harlem Restaurant in the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State office building. The event was produced by Claude Sharrieff of the WPAT Sunday radio show, ‘News and Views.’
Keynote speaker, Minister Conrad Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam cleric and WBLS radio host, surprised the audience with his perspective and analysis of the Republican and Democratic Parties. He said that although he is a long-time Democrat, he is currently ‘shopping’ in the marketplace of political parties. As he examines the goods on racks, he said, I’m looking for the best bargain.’
He charged that black voters have been ‘led like lambs to the slaughter’ in giving 95 percent of their vote votes to the Democratic Party. The young minister said that no other group – ‘not Jews, Catholics, or homosexuals’ – vote in such an ‘unwise’ manner. He suggested that while Jewish people are overwhelmingly Democrats, they make sure that 30 to 40 percent of their people vote Republican, so they can influence policy whichever one of the parties win. Catholics and homosexuals use the same strategy, according to the hip-hop minister. He advised that no group should put all their apples in one basket in a two-party system. For black people to do so, ‘we silence ourselves to political impotence,’ he mentioned.
Muhammad then praised Texas Gov. George Bush, the Republican nominee for president, for ‘working with blacks, Latino, and the Nation of Islam in Texas.’ Muhammad said voters should remember that President Clinton executed a retarded black man in Arkansas when they criticize Bush for executing Shaka Sankofa.
Muhammad urged the audience to ignore the fear-mongers who try to make you think that if you vote Republican or make strategic alliances with Republicans, you’ve done something wrong. Also, during the forum, which was moderated by yours truly announced awardees, to three strong black women octogenarians, Theora Richardson, Lugenia Gordon, and Florence Rice, and praised them as great leaders in the Republican Party.
Richardson, of the Booker T. Washington Appreciation Committee, took time to trace for the guests black elected officials to the period of Reconstruction. She said, ‘The main thing that black men during that time forgot to no was organize. They did not organize sufficiently so they were turned out of office. Years ago, she continued, ‘black communities had vibrant business districts lined with dry cleaners, pharmacists, tailors. etc. but we’ve become so integrated that we walked away from those businesses. Those districts that once were populated by black businesses and are now controlled by everyone except black people.
Lugenia Gordon, President of Freedom Republican Club said, her family has been voting Republican since 1865. She called for greater unity among African people. ‘Don’t tell me to forget slavery,’ she bristled, ‘I’ll forget slavery when Jewish people forget about their bondage in Egypt.’ She added, ‘I wrote a letter to President George H. W. Bush to appoint Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and I wish I had never supported him because he always rules against us.’
Harlem consumer advocate Florence Rice said, ‘Our children are nothing but consumers. Big companies know this, and that’s why they’re in Harlem.’ She said, that history shows that elements in white America do not want to see an economically strong black community. ‘That’s why they burned out black Wall Street in Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida.
A grassroots GOP groundswell was developing, and support was being generated from virtually all quarters and across political party lines. A new generation of voters and activism was emerging inspired by the unfolding congressional campaign of Conrad Muhammad, the Hip-Hop minister. The developing campaign was honored and pleased to get the support of Governor George Pataki, reelection campaign organization by way of Harold Doley. We had informal discussions on the feasibility of a high-profile appearance with the governor in the black community, should Conrad be successful in securing the Republican Party’s designation for congress in the 15th CD. Although there were murmurs of political problems at the county level, we had every reason to be confident because the ‘official’ black district leaders, Will Brown in particular, was among the uptown GOP district leader advocates for Conrad’s designation. We had the political inside track and we knew that there was not a better and more articulate, well-known, skilled and viable alternative candidate to Conrad Muhammad. Therefore, when we were advised that Conrad’s interview with the county chairman was scheduled we started to prepare for the next stage in the campaign with great anticipation.
Our great anticipation was short lived as Conrad’s interview with Chairman Ravitz for the party’s congressional designation was short-circuited. The utter weakness of Will Brown, and the ‘official’ black GOP district leaders in their so-called advocacy on behalf of Conrad Muhammad designation for congress was apparent when Assemblyman John Ravitz, denied Conrad the designation out of hand. The black district leaders and any support that they may have shown for Conrad’s designation was swept aside as Ravitz asserted his absolute power and authority. Assemblyman Ravitz resurrected phantom allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ and referenced statements attributed to Conrad, when he was the minister of Mosque No. 7 several years prior. The black GOP ‘official’ leadership acquiesced and folded under the pressure of Ravitz, leaving Conrad the latest victim of the county committee’s political plantation system.
The situation was compounded as Conrad’s initial benefactor, Claude Sharrieff, the person who introduced us to Conrad changed political alliances. Many speculated that Congressman Rangel had considerable political capital (patronage) with Chairman Ravitz, and the previous county chairman Senator Roy Goodman, and the Congressman was also known as the head Negro in charge (HNIC). It was no accident that the Republican Party has never support a viable candidate to compete against the Democratic Party incumbent.
Ultimately, Chairman Ravitz insulted and utterly disrespected the Republican Party and its black leadership by giving the congressional designation to Dr. Jesse Fields, an official of the Independence Party. Ravitz’ decision to give the party’s designation to Jesse Fields, as opposed to a viable black Republican candidate is an egregious political compromise of the values and principals, and moral standards, of the Republican Party. Moreover, the decision was in fact hypocritical in that ‘anti-Semetic’ characterizations were attributed to the leader of the Independence Party leaders, Dr. Lenora Fulani. However, Ravitz was the new county leader, massa of the local GOP plantation and the ultimate arbiter of all matters pertinent to the county’s black GOP. Certainly, Congressman Rangel would prefer Dr. Jesse Fields as his electoral opponent as opposed to the dynamic, energetic and young Conrad Muhammad. As a practical political matter, the Ravitz decision pre-empted the local Republican Party from a constructive party building mode in the black community, which must necessarily be based on values, standards and principles.
Our assessment of the national and local situation was confirmed relative Conrad by Ms. Angela Sailor, the Director of Outreach for Republican National Committee (RNC). Ms. Sailor said that the RNC would be supportive of Conrad’s future candidacy. Than she recalled with humor, a national conference-call with the RNC and the national black GOP leadership when Harlem district leader Ron Perry disparaged us during the conference call. His interruption occurred after Ms. Sailor indicated that she would be in Harlem to and event she was invited to by our Voters Anonymous, grassroots initiative. Perry had no idea that we were monitoring the conference call, and I was livid when I heard his personal attack. Immediately following Ron’s comments were repudiated and discredited by another GOP Harlem-ite former Republican Party candidate for the NYS Assembly in the 70 AD Joan Dawson.
In the wake of the Republican county committee rejecting Conrad Muhammad in favor of Jesse Fields for congress, and the state of official black political leadership in general, we needed to re-evaluate and fine-tune our strategic plan to advance the cause of political ascendancy in the black community. The nature and comprehensiveness depths of the county’s political opposition was exposed, and it was politically lethal. The gross lack of political fidelity to the Republican Party, and the stalwart supporters in the black community deserve basic respect, and this requires that we rethink our approach and perhaps group.
Alton Chase said, “Congressman Rangel is the HNIC on both sides of the political aisle, Democrat and Republican, case closed… That’s how the system works in this town. But at some point, you would think that county would have to support a viable candidate, and/or at least a card-carrying Republican against the Democratic Party opposition.”
Darryl Brown made his contribution, saying “All politics is local, but based on what went down with Conrad Muhammad indicates to me that we need to link our grassroots GOP initiative to a viable presidential candidate. We need to work on filling-out the slate with a congressional candidate as well as candidates for the state, municipal legislature. If we don’t link to a viable presidential campaign, then the Conrad Muhammad political scenario will be repeated by the county system. But if we link to a viable presidential candidate we may be able to put federal and national pressure on the local electoral situation. They must be violated something by conducting political business as they do.”
Replying, Chase said, “You may be on to something. If we have a viable Republican candidate for congress in a presidential race, we may have a better shot at leveraging our man for the party designation, or the alternative is to face a primary election. I like that idea because what happened in the state gubernatorial race is that we had to articulated support of the state committee, but they are not in a position to enforce their political will. They must go along with the county organization, because of the internal structure. On the other hand, if the Feds are involved, pressure could be put on the county organization.
I responded, ending with a question, “Yeah, I like your thinking D. Let me ask you this. Does the viable presidential candidate have to be black?”
Darryl answered, Come-on man give me a play. I’m not talking about the ‘run Jesse run’ type of thing, specifically. We all know the limitations associated with black presidential candidates and the reality of the ‘Southern Strategy’ that is required to win the presidency. But an attractive black Republican candidate could facilitate a substantial political bridge to the ultimate GOP presidential nominee.”
Chase asked, “You got any black candidates in mind, D.? Darryl replied “Actually, I hadn’t given that idea too much thought prior to this conversation. But since you asked, two names immediately come to mind, and those are Colin Powell and Tony Brown.”
Chase replied, “Well, Colin Powell said that he wouldn’t seek the presidency if he only had to run across the street. He knows that he can’t prevail because of the Southern Strategy. Who knows? Although I’m sure Tony is not interested in seeking the presidency, he may appreciate the strategic plan and consider the proposition.”
Darryl Brown, Yeah, Gary you must have links to Tony Brown because he referred to you as a ‘prominent’ Republican in his book, ‘Black Lies, White Lies, the Truth According to Tony Brown. How did that happen G? How come he put you down?
I replied saying, I didn’t know about it until after the fact. My cousin Roscoe brought it to my attention after he read his book. I had recommended Tony’s book to Roscoe and after reading it he called me and informed me that I’m mentioned in the book, therefore I’m immediately went out to buy the book. I was completely surprised by the honorable mention. But our interaction began when I responded by letter to a piece Tony wrote about black Americans and the Republican Party. Tony responded to my letter with a letter of his own, and apparently, he decided to publish our exchange. We do exchange e-mail from time to time, so maybe I’ll introduce that line of discussion with him.
Darryl said, “You guys need to tell me more about the Southern Strategy so thing. I heard about it, but I’m not sure I understand it sufficiently. You guy need to develop that a little further for me.”
“We’re going to get into that.” I said “In fact, I’m writing a book dealing with the Southern Strategy, so I will share the manuscript with you soon, because it will be completed shortly. I will give you a hint though, the North won the war of ideas, but the South won the war on the political ground. And the racial dichotomy remains the subtext of America’s party politics.”
But, I highly recommend Tony Brown’s book, ‘Black Lies, White Lies, The Truth According to Tony Brown.’ Tony observes the comprehensive, complex and sophisticated nature of the relationship between politics and economics, and obliquely references the race dynamic in terms of black and white lies.
Darryl said, ‘I’m glad that you mentioned the words comprehensive, complex and sophisticated the system and our situation is because I read a profound article that I shared with Chase about the political and economic aspects of the prison industrial complex. The information in the piece was very interesting, but I was intrigued by a possible connection between the construction of prisons in New York, under Governor Mario Cuomo, and the demise of the O’Rourke, gubernatorial campaign in 1986. The article sheds light on a possible deal between state GOP political/economic forces and incumbent Democratic political forces, to take the steam out of the emerging insurgent Republican Party political forces, and the gubernatorial campaign. Brother Chase read the piece and concluded that the O’Rourke campaign and our efforts were marginalized in favor of prison-construction deals in upstate New York. Chase was blown away by the piece and said that it answered some questions that he had concerning why and how we may have been compromised in 1986. He is your copy brother:’
‘Americans Behind Bars – The Majority of Them Nonviolent Offenders – Means Jobs for Depressed Regions and Windfalls for Profiteers’ by Eric Schlosser”
Chase reacted, ‘Darryl is accurate for the most part Gary and while I don’t disagree with his representations about what I said about the piece and feel about is a matter that I prefer to speak on myself, and no disrespect to you brother D. I’m sure you appreciate where I’m coming from D!
Yeah Chase, I appreciate where you’re coming from too, but hold the phone please. Before I hear your reaction to the piece Chase, let me read it for myself than I’ll be in a better position to appreciate what you will say on it. Can we all agree that I should be first bought up to speed by way of the article itself?