For the second time in as many weeks, Mayor Masiello has rebuked County Executive Gorski for his campaign advertising techniques, labeling a recent mailing sent to primary voters as fraught with an "underlying anti-Italian-American connotation."
"I will not tolerate ethnic or racial slurs of any nature," the mayor said Wednesday, referring to mailings critical of Gorski's Republican challenger for county executive, Buffalo Comptroller Joel A. Giambra.
The flier depicts a crying child covered with an overturned bowl of spaghetti, decries the state of city government, and carries a caption of "What a Mess!"
After Masiello blasted Gorski in late August for denigrating the city administration in his attacks on Giambra, he issued a statement with similar themes on Wednesday -- and also expressed concern over injecting ethnicity into the race.
"I am proud of our city's great diversity, and I am especially proud of my Italian ancestry," he said. "I urge the county executive to withdraw any campaign material that either denigrates ethnic or racial groups, or mischaracterizes the great management successes that have been achieved over the past six years by my administration."
Gorski rejected any notion that the ad is offensive.
"The picture was taken from a Life magazine collection and has been used in greeting cards and posters for many, many years," he said. "No one who has seen this picture could view it as anything but fair commentary on the mess Giambra has created in City Hall and intends to create if he gets the chance at County Hall.
"It's clear from this attack that Mr. Giambra will say or do anything to divert attention from his miserable record and his dangerous plan," he added.
Masiello's blast at a fellow Democrat locked in a tough re-election battle, especially on the heels of his August rebuke, marks an even greater rift between the region's top locally elected officials -- who have never enjoyed close relations.
It followed similar expressions of concern issued Tuesday by Giambra and Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis.
The mayor would not elaborate on his statement, but his spokesman -- Peter K. Cutler -- said the blast does not alter Masiello's fundamental support of Gorski's re-election effort. Still, he said that support should not "preclude the mayor from expressing concern over aspects of any candidate's behavior."
"That's what this situation has brought to bear," Cutler added.
The latest flare-up between the mayor and county executive also prompted expressions of similar concern from leaders of prominent Italian-American societies.
Domenic J. Migliaccio, president of the Justinian Legal Society -- a group of Italian-American lawyers and judges -- said he fully agreed with Masiello's criticism.
"If Gorski did this intentionally, he's purely mean-spirited," he said. "If it was unintentional, he was insensitive.
"It's an attempt to thrust the focus of the campaign to something other than the issues, and I'm offended by it," he added.
Donald A. Alessi of the Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York said Gorski's television advertising carries a preponderance of Italian-American surnames when discussing problems in City Hall, and expressed concern about a politician the community has traditionally regarded as a "good friend."
"We certainly hope Dennis Gorski is not involved in an anti-Italian slur campaign," Alessi said. "It's beneath him and beneath his office."
And Dr. Andrew P. Giacobbe, vice president of the Baccelli Medical Society -- a group of more than 120 Italian-American physicians -- said fellow officers of his organization found the ad "offensive."
"It would be appropriate for whomever is responsible to apologize to the Italian-American community," he said.
In response, Gorski produced statements from a number of prominent Italian-Americans who ridiculed the idea that the spaghetti mailing was offensive.
But the names included mostly long-time political allies. One, Erie Community College President William J. Mariani, is appointed by a board with close ties to Gorski.
"I have seen the flier in question and believe it stretches the imagination to view it as anti-Italian," Mariani said.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, called the thought of Gorski being anti-Italian "preposterous," while Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph J. Lorigo -- a close ally whose party has endorsed Gorski -- called the county executive a "gentleman of impeccable integrity."
"I know from first-hand experience that he holds people of all ethnic backgrounds in the highest regard," Lorigo said. "I have reviewed the mailer and find nothing in it that can be reasonably construed as anti-Italian."
Attorney Gary L. Mucci, president of the William Paca Society, a group of Italian-American professionals, said he was not offended when contacted independently by The Buffalo News.
"While there has been some discussion about it, the view is that it's not the kind of thing that represents discrimination," he said. "The issue of taste is something else."
And in another development involving controversial ads, Gorski spokesman Michael P. Hughes continued the campaign's assault on Giambra's handling of a sexual harassment case in his office in 1992.
It involved a woman who eventually won $30,000 in a federal lawsuit against the City of Buffalo, and is the subject of Gorski's latest anti-Giambra commercial.
Hughes, joined by Deputy County Executive James P. Keane, insisted that Giambra was lying when he said that former comptroller employee Joseph P. Pendolino was suspended without pay as a result of sexually harassing a co-worker.
"Instead of lying about his past, Mr. Giambra should be man enough to admit he was wrong and apologize to the woman who was harassed," Hughes said. "But given what we've seen so far, no one should be holding their breath for Joel to do the right thing, even when the truth is staring him right in the face."
In response, Giambra and Deputy Comptroller Bruce L. Fisher produced documents supporting their claim that Pendolino was not suspended with pay, continuing their charges that Gorski's ads are misleading and distorted.
Fisher displayed letters to Pendolino informing him of his unpaid three-day suspension in April of 1992.
And though the Gorski campaign bases its claims on federal Magistrate Carol E. Heckman's decision that the paid suspension was "unrefuted" by the city, Fisher said city records show Pendolino was paid only for seven days of the 10-day pay period.
While Magistrate Heckman's decision cites other checks Pendolino received during the same period (noting city lawyers did not explain their origin), Fisher said City Hall records show the checks were not regular paychecks, but retroactive salary adjustments paid during the time of Pendolino's suspension to all members of Local 650 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
"Those checks have no relevance to the issue of whether Mr. Pendolino was suspended without pay," Fisher said. "Every document we have here says Mr. Pendolino was paid for seven days and not 10."
While the Gorski camp has relied on the magistrate's decision in the case, Fisher said the ruling does not jibe with official city records, mainly because city attorneys never presented them during the case.
"It would have been helpful had these (checks) been communicated to her as retroactive payments," he said. "They are clearly entered as such in the printouts."