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MAN UNDER SIEGE

County Legislator Gregory B. Olma is an in-your-face politician, the kind of guy who loves nothing better than a good fight.

Now, he's dead center in the biggest one he's ever likely to see -- and insiders say his brash, abrasive style is what's doing him the most harm.

Olma was arrested last week, on Primary Night, for allegedly using racial slurs against two female election inspectors who are black. Since then, the controversy surrounding his arrest has gathered strength, reaching all the way from Olma's front yard to the steps of City Hall. Now:

County Democratic Party Chairman G. Steven Pigeon is calling on Olma -- a Democrat who has represented the East Side in the Legislature for nearly 10 years -- to resign his seat.

A crowd of some 100 people Monday picketed the Fillmore Avenue polling place where the incident took place, right across the street from Olma's house.

A group of black city officials and NAACP leaders also is calling for Olma to resign or be censured by the County Legislature. Legislators aren't ruling out a censure vote but will wait until the case is handled by the courts.

In the midst of the furor, Olma insists he is innocent.

He says he is not a racist and never said the racist words.

But Olma admits his rough manner has made him a lot of enemies over the years -- including some of the same people who now want to see him out of office or censured.

"Those who know me know I'm not a racist," he said. "I take everybody as they come. And I'll be totally exonerated."

The tensions

It didn't take long for people who dislike Olma -- and there are lots of them -- to begin calling for his head in the wake of his arrest last Tuesday.

Black city leaders, including Fillmore Council Member Karen Ellington, who has clashed with Olma over management at the Broadway Market, joined with local NAACP President Frank B. Mesiah to demand that Olma resign his seat in the Legislature.

Others joining the fray against Olma -- and the picketing across the street from his house Monday -- include Richard M. Gattone and Stephen J. Godzisz.

Gattone lost a city race for the Lovejoy Council seat a year ago and now is planning to run against Olma, who is up for re-election next year.

"We've got to rid the community of this type of racism," said Gattone, of Sattler Avenue.

Godzisz, a Gibson Street resident who has had a long and often antagonistic relationship with Olma, lost to Olma in last week's race for Democratic committee. Godzisz also has lost city races in which Olma has worked for his opponents' campaigns.

"Greg Olma has a history of racism. All you have to do is look at his record," said Godzisz at the hourlong demonstration Monday. "I'm sure it was in his mind all day (Primary Day). He was motivated by racism."

Behind the scenes at the picketing, although not taking part, was another longtime Olma opponent -- home builder Frank R. Parlato Jr.

The enmity between Parlato and Olma goes back years, stemming from disputes over federally funded housing programs and fueled by back-and-forth political attacks.

Parlato, who has been publishing articles about the Olma arrest for the Buffalo Criterion and other small local papers, even runs a Web site -- www.gregolma.com -- devoted to attacking Olma and providing an outlet for "citizens unjustly attacked or otherwise victimized" by Olma.

The incident

Eyewitness accounts vary as to what actually happened in Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle last Tuesday.

One thing is certain: A brief exchange took place between Olma and the two election inspectors, Karen Gregory and Adrea Newbern, shortly after 9 p.m. That's when Olma entered the polling place, located in the back area of the building at 612 Fillmore Ave., and asked to see the election results.

Olma, who had a poll watcher's certificate to inspect the results and who was running in the committee race against Godzisz, said the women wouldn't give him the results. After a brief argument with them, Olma said, he left.

"I was frustrated," Olma said, but he insists he did not use vulgar or racist language.

Some eyewitnesses to the interaction back him up.

"I heard no racial slurs or anything that would frighten anybody," said Roxanne M. Chase, a widowed mother of two who was at the polls because she was running for a committee seat. Chase said she knows Olma but is not his friend or connected to him in any way.

"It wasn't a confrontation or even a disagreement," Chase said. "He was not harassing them or using racial epithets. It's a downright lie."

Newbern and Gregory did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

However, police reports made that night contain the women's allegations that Olma used racial slurs against them -- specifically, a derogatory word for blacks and another one for women.

Olma was not arrested at the library. He was picked up by police about two hours later, shortly after 11 p.m., in the front area of the library, which is also a private social club and bar.

Broadway Station Officer Richard Lopez, who participated in the arrest, said that Olma was intoxicated that night.

Olma denies that, saying he did not drink at all before 9 p.m., when the polls closed. He said he did have a beer or two between 9 p.m. and the time he was arrested, but that was because he was with a group of friends celebrating the election results. Olma said he was not drunk at any point.

Olma smells a plot

Olma, 40, said he isn't concocting conspiracy theories about what happened last Tuesday night. He said he will wait to be vindicated in court.

But he said some aspects of his arrest are very suspicious, including the two-hour gap between the alleged incident and his arrest; the fact that he was handcuffed and taken to Police Headquarters for charges that were not felonies, when an appearance ticket normally would be sufficient; and the fact that several local television stations were waiting for him at the police station.

"It's a character smear, for a long-term political strategy," said Olma, who will be represented by lawyers Leigh Anderson and David Jay.

There are others who share some of those suspicions.

Douglas Butler, a Fillmore Avenue neighbor of Olma's and a Democratic committeeman in another East Side district, said he spoke on the phone to Olma shortly after 11 p.m. last Tuesday, shortly before the arrest. Butler swears Olma was not drunk and did not know he was in trouble.

"He sounded fine," Butler said. "These reports that he was drunk seem ridiculous to me."

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said he has known Olma for at least eight years and has never heard him utter a racist word.

"I do not believe Greg Olma to be a racist," said Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat. "If the allegations are true, I abhor them. I have no patience for anybody that has racist feelings of any kind. But I have never heard Greg speak in a racist fashion."

Another insider, a Republican who knows Olma well but opposes him on many issues, said Olma is not a racist -- and is too crafty to be caught in such a manner.

"This guy represents a district that's a large part African-American. Do you think that he's that stupid?" said the Republican source, who asked not to be named.

Pretty much everybody does share one opinion: Olma has the kind of personality that was bound to get him in trouble sooner or later.

Olma the politician

Olma, a graduate of St. Francis High School in Athol Springs and the University at Buffalo, is brash and crude but cagey -- and unapologetic about it.

"His in-your-face style is accepted by some and rejected by others," said Erie County Clerk David J. Swarts. "When something like this happens, people out there are waiting for something like this." Olma supports Swarts against Pigeon for the chairmanship of the county Democratic Party.

Pigeon, the current chairman, said Olma's personality -- combined with the new allegations against him -- convinced him that Olma should resign his seat immediately.

"Everything he says other people are, he is," Pigeon said of Olma. "What he did to those two women was horrible. It's unforgivable. He should step down."

Hoyt said Olma's personality is often his biggest obstacle. "Greg makes a lot of enemies," he said. "He tells it like it is -- with a complete disregard for who it might irritate and who it might anger."

Olma, who is due in court on the charges against him Thursday, said he won't make any apologies for his actions -- or for his style of politics.

"An apology equals guilt. Nothing happened," Olma said. "There's a lot of belief that there's something wrong here. As it plays out, those that are behind this will be exposed."

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