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Mayor hires Indys to hunt volunteers

Mayor Bloomberg cut a hefty $250,000 check to the controversial Independence Party - money that's being used to round up campaign workers for the mayor, the Daily News has learned.

The Lenora Fulani-backed group is spending the mayor's dough on an elaborate phone bank - set up across the street from City Hall - to target some 800,000 city voters not registered with any political party, officials said.

Several voters said they got calls from people who wouldn't identify their party but asked if they'd volunteer for Bloomberg.

"We are looking to build an independence movement," Independence Party political director Jacqueline Salit said. "Obviously, Mayor Bloomberg has been a strong supporter of these issues and is a great partner."

City Hall sources confirmed the gift from the mayor, who spent $75 million on his 2001 campaign and wrote the check to the Independence Party within the last six months. But they insisted the "field survey" of voters is standard, and that unaligned voters are an untapped resource that could tip the balance this fall.

"If knowledge is power," said one senior adviser to the mayor, "it would be nice to know what is on the minds of 800,000 voters."

But Bloomberg's choice of allies could prove troublesome. Fulani has a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric, and the mayor's rivals have already seized on his endorsement from the party in 2001.

Voters who received the calls were asked to name the most important issue facing New York - then whether they'd be willing to volunteer for Bloomberg, organize their neighbors or hand out literature on his behalf.

"It was pseudo grass roots," said Jim Vogel, 47, a Brooklyn writer who received several calls. "It's like they are paying someone to call people up and ask them to volunteer."

The effort, which has been going on since at least November, shows that Bloomberg will not be shy about using his wealth the second time around.

Bloomberg spent his first three years in office avoiding Fulani, whose party also has endorsed Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat.

In 2001, Bloomberg won 59,000 votes on the party's line. And recently, he has appeared with Fulani at two events.

Originally published on January 5, 2005

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