About 100 people, some holding anti-racism signs, stood in front of the Adam Mickiewicz Library on a sunny Monday afternoon. They were there because of Greg Olma.
The TV cameras appeared, and the politicians stepped forward. Three Common Council members are among those calling for Olma's head. The county legislator supposedly used the N-word last week during an alcohol-fueled disagreement with two female elections inspectors.
"Yes," said Karen Ellington, Fillmore Council member and a political foe of Olma. "I know he is capable of saying this."
There's one problem: He might not have.
In case you missed it, Olma -- a maverick Democrat -- supposedly lit into two middle-aged African-American poll workers who refused to give him committee election results on primary night. Everybody was at the Mickiewicz Library, known as Mickey's, a bar/library/meeting hall and Olma hangout near Broadway-Fillmore. It's in the middle of a battered, racially mixed neighborhood that was once heavily Polish-American. Olma says that nothing happened, that he's being set up by political enemies.
Olma's reputation for unprovoked belligerence hurts his case. To Olma, a day without confrontation is like a day without sunshine. It's easy to picture him in a dust-up. The two ladies looked shaken on the TV news that night.
Yet there are problems with the picture.
Several witnesses -- including two political first-timers who aren't friends with Olma -- say there was no dispute, much less any racial slurs.
"I swear on my parents' graves this (harassment) never occurred," said Roxanne Chase, a widowed single mother and a church council president.
Linda Hansen agreed. "There was some clamor when the other guy (zone chairman Dan Glowacki) said, 'I could have your jobs,' " Hansen said. "But nothing (with Olma)."
It's not just that. There are questions about the background of one of Olma's accusers. Court records show that elections inspector Karen Gregory was arrested two years ago on charges of disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and resisting arrest. She later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Court records also show that Gregory sued two property owners in the last several years, for $750,000 and $500,000, in what attorneys call "slip and fall" cases. She also filed a lawsuit seeking $50,000 in damages for injuries in a traffic accident.
Even those who don't like Olma say he's not a heavy drinker and doesn't use racial slurs. Fact is, anybody who has a problem with race, and the means to move, got out of this neighborhood years ago. Olma moved in after college.
Sam Herbert, an African-American who ran for the State Assembly in the primary, knows Olma and believes his denial. "I take him at his word, until proven otherwise," Herbert said.
The layers of politics add to the questions. A horde of Olma enemies will milk this for all it's worth, no matter what the truth.
Those leading the charge include Frank Parlato Jr., whom Olma accused of running a neighborhood housing scam, a charge Parlato has consistently denied; Stephen Godzisz, a longtime political foe whom Olma beat for a local committee seat on primary night; Ellington, who butted heads with Olma over the Broadway Market; and Steve Gattone, who has his eye on Olma's seat.
The feeding frenzy is on, and plenty of folks are grabbing a knife and fork.
"What bothers me," said one Council member, "is people running around (City Hall) gleeful about destroying Greg Olma."
Let's be clear: If Olma used racial slurs against these women, he needs to go. There's no excuse and no second chance. But we need to make sure what happened -- particularly given the web of politics involved -- before we label the guy.
"I'm still in shock it got to this level," Olma said. "Nothing happened. I will prevail in court."
Criminal charges against Olma were dismissed Wednesday, but a grand jury will review the polling-place incident.
I'm not buying the idea that sinister forces planned the events. But there's no doubt that Olma's enemies will make as much of this as they can. Maybe it happened the way the women say. Or maybe they were mistaken, or urged by Olma's enemies to make more of this than it was.
Given Olma's nature, I wouldn't be surprised if words were exchanged. But the racial stuff needs to be proved. Particularly given what's at stake, personally and politically.
Olma is a fence-jumping swing vote in a County Legislature majority that often backs Republican County Executive Joel Giambra. Downtown Democrats -- notably party boss Steve Pigeon, Olma's arch-enemy -- salivate at the thought of an Olma exit. The two, infamously, went at it a couple of months ago at Pigeon's hearing for a Water Authority post. Not surprisingly, Pigeon is part of the "Olma must go" chorus.
Granted, there are good people with no ax to grind who are ticked off at Olma. If Olma said what the women alleged, he needs to go. But racism is a tough charge to defend yourself against. Let's make sure he's guilty before we brand him.
Some stains don't wash out.