New Alliance Party candidate Lenora B. Fulani launched her 1992 bid for the presidency with a promise to open the political process to all of the people who have felt shut out by the machinations of the power brokers who control the Democratic and Republican parties.
But the party's Maryland chairwoman, activist Morning Sunday, contends that New Alliance leaders are every bit as dictatorial as the Democrats and Republicans.
Disillusioned and fearful, Sunday is warning her fellow party members that there is an element of "thuggery" in the New Alliance leadership and to "bail out while they can."
"I'm afraid for my safety and for my family's safety," says Sunday, the state chair since 1988. "I've been threatened. I've been subjected to verbal abuse. Other people who have bucked the national leadership have warned me that they could resort to thuggery."
Sunday and the party's national headquarters are engaged in a tug of war over approximately 12,000 signatures collected during a petition drive earlier this year.
The party alleges that Sunday and Annie Chambers, the former state chair, refuse either to surrender the signatures to national officials or to file them with the Maryland secretary of state as was intended.
The New Alliance Party has filed criminal charges of theft against Sunday and Chambers. A hearing has been scheduled in Baltimore District Court May 5.
Fulani needs to file 10,000 verified signatures and a formal statement of intent to form a new political party by June 3 to get on the November general election ballot in Maryland.
Arthur R. Block, attorney for the New Alliance Party, describing the dispute as "inexplicable" and "frustrating," says withholding the signatures could sabotage the party's effort to get Fulani on the ballot.
"This has been a tremendous waste of energy and time and very disruptive to the party," says Block. "We would expect Ms. Sunday to turn over the signatures and then submit her resignation, effective the next day."
Adds Madelyn Chapman, Fulani's press secretary, "A lot of people worked very, very hard to put Dr. Fulani on the ballot. Those petitions represent a lot of man-hours. I don't know why she's still holding onto them."
Sunday says that what began as a misunderstanding over scheduling exploded into threats and recriminations from party leaders who felt their authority was being questioned. She says she plans to surrender the petitions at the May 5 hearing.
But the experience has all but shattered her faith that a successful presidential campaign can be launched from the grass roots.
"This has taught me that change isn't going to come from within the political system because of the things you have to do and become to run for president" Sunday says. "The people at the top -- no matter who they are -- all seem to feel the average person on the street is of no consequence. They are not going to listen to us unless we compel them to listen."
Those are the very ideals with which Fulani, 41, a Harlem psychologist, launched her campaigns in 1988 and 1992.
In 1988, Fulani became the first black woman to appear on the ballot in all 50 states, although she won just over 203,000 votes in the general election.
This year, the New Alliance Party is hoping to make the ballot in at least 48 states. It already has qualified in four states; it has active campaign committees in a total of 20, and it has begun the qualification process in a total of 45 states, including Maryland.
Chapman says the party's long-term goal is to create a viable independent party that would represent the interests of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, women and all other disenfranchised people by the year 2000.
"We are in this for the long haul," says Chapman. "Inch by inch, we are chipping away at a political process that has ossified."
But Sunday says the actual conduct of the party's leaders belies their ideals.
As state chair, Sunday says, she detects a distinct class system in the organization of the petition drives. Blacks and Latinos tended to do the legwork, Sunday observes, while the team leaders always were white.
Later, she grew uncomfortable with the local organization's lack of input with regard to fund-raising. All of the money raised locally, says Sunday, went straight to the national office without any accountability to the local branches.
Finally, Sunday says, the national leaders ignored her requests for help in establishing a strong local organization that could field candidates for local offices.
"Their only interest was in the national campaign. All of the decisions were made for us from New York [party headquarters]. They would send us marching orders and we were supposed to do them without any input at all -- no different from the Democrats and the Republicans.
"And when we tried to question their authority," Sunday continues, "all hell broke lose. They went into a severe attack phase."
Similar questions about the New Alliance Party have been raised before.