Battle over third-party petitions continues in Baltimore court

November 11, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Election Day is over, but the legal battle over Lenora B. Fulani's presidential campaign in Maryland drags on in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Two Baltimore political activists are on trial for the second time, charged with stealing the almost 12,000 signatures gathered to put Ms. Fulani, the New Alliance Party candidate for president, on the state ballot.

One of the defendants, Morning Sunday, was the chairman for the New Alliance Party in Maryland.

In March, after a falling-out with the national organization, she refused to turn the petitions over to the secretary of state's office.

Ms. Sunday, 35, and Annie Chambers, 50, were found guilty in a June trial in District Court and ordered to turn over the signatures.

They did, and Ms. Fulani's name appeared on the ballot Nov. 3, one of three "third-party" candidates, alongside Independent Ross Perot and Libertarian Andre Marrou. Ms. Fulani, a New York therapist, garnered 2,682 votes statewide.

The fight over the petitions returned to court Monday, appealed to Circuit Court by the women's attorney, Luther West.

Given that the election is over and that the defendants gave up the petitions in June, why is the trial being held at all?

A spokesman in the state's attorney's office said prosecutors assigned to the case would not be allowed to answer questions or comment on the case while the trial is in progress. However, Madelyn Chapman, press secretary for the New York-based New Alliance Party, said the party would prefer not to pursue the matter, because it forces staff members to take time off to testify.

So far, the case has seemed more like a civics class than a felony theft trial, with its detailed testimony about ballot access for third-party candidates.

However, Ms. Sunday may take the witness stand in her own defense, and she accuses the party of threatening her and stealing her car, jewelry and husband's baseball card collection. "I always intended to give the petitions back," Ms. Sunday said yesterday. "I never met people who wouldn't negotiate, who wouldn't sit down and talk."

Although Ms. Fulani's vote-getting ability pales alongside that of Mr. Perot, who received 19 percent of the vote nationally and 14 percent of the Maryland vote, she is one of the better-known third-party candidates, qualifying for about $2.5 million in federal matching funds this election year.

In 1988, she ran in all 50 states on the New Alliance Party's presidential ticket, winning about 240,000 votes nationwide.

This year, she ran in 39 states and the District of Columbia, but her vote totals are in dispute, Ms. Chapman said, reported variously as 80,000 or 211,000.

Founded in the 1970s, the New Alliance Party bills itself as "leftist-centrist," supporting greater access by voters and more recognition for alternative parties. "Pro-socialism, pro-gay, committed to women's rights," Ms. Chapman added, in detailing the party's ideology.

But the party's origins in psychotherapy and its allies have attracted controversy.

Its founders once worked with Lyndon LaRouche, the jailed third-party candidate whom Ms. Chapman now dismisses as "a fascist."

And in this year's Senate race in New York, the New Alliance Party filed petitions for the Rev. Al Sharpton, but he declined to run as a third-party candidate after losing in the Democratic primary.

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