A mailing to 300 women leaders by the Gorski re-election campaign includes five pages of information on a sexual harassment lawsuit growing out of incidents in the City Department of Audit and Control during the administration of Joel A. Giambra, Gorski's Republican opponent for county executive.
The lawsuit is the subject of a Gorski campaign commercial challenged by Giambra. The Gorski backup information, with excerpts from the federal court case, was mailed by Democratic headquarters under the name of Michael P. Hughes, director of communications -- Gorski 99.
"As a woman leader in Erie County, it's important that you know the facts and details about a television commercial our campaign is airing," the Hughes memo opens. "Federal Judge Carol Heckman fined the City of Buffalo $30,000 because Mr. Giambra failed to take responsible action in this harassment incident, which caused irreparable harm to the victim, one of his own employees in the city comptroller office."
Gorski on Friday also found himself defending a mailing to Independence Party voters, with a picture of a child with a bowl of spaghetti on his head. In answer to questions, Gorski said it is intended to show the mess that would result from Giambra's past proposals to send city firefighters to suburbs and merge city and county law enforcement. He denied charges it was intended to insult Giambra's Italian ancestry.
That sort of thing happens in campaigns, Gorski said, and he is sorry if any one viewed the material as an ethnic slur.
"If anybody's interpreting it that
way, I apologize," said Gorski. "I have spaghetti on my head."
The Hughes mailing to women leaders describes eight types of sexually harassing conduct and comment that U.S. Magistrate Judge Heckman found former city employee Joseph Pendolino committed repeatedly.
Plaintiff Bertie Hollis testified she began work in the comptroller's office in 1982 but harassment did not start until 1990, the year Giambra took the post, the Hughes memo notes.
"Judge Heckman ruled that Mr. Giambra not only failed to stop the harassment, but inexplicably put the harasser back in charge of the victim after a three-day paid suspension," Hughes said. "The victim of this outrageous behavior had to hide in the bathroom and rearrange her schedule to limit her contact with Pendolino. She had shortness of breath, broke out in hives, cried daily at work and experienced extreme emotional distress from daily harassment."
The mailing follows Giambra denials of responsibility and criticism of Gorski's "negative campaigning".
Giambra said he suspended Pendolino without pay, but that the city failed to inform the judge, who was left with the wrong impression that other city income Pendolino received was his pay during the suspension.
Hughes countered by pointing to the court testimony of Paul DeFranks, then president of Local 650 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, of which Pendolino was a member.
"DeFranks testified that the most Giambra asked for was a week or two suspension, and they quickly settled for three days," Hughes said.