Lancaster Councilman Richard D. Zarbo, who seems to attract controversy, is again in the middle of a storm, this time over his characterization of the Village of Lancaster.
Zarbo, a Republican, was talking about the differences in homes and infrastructure in the Town of Lancaster versus the Village of Lancaster during a recent public hearing on a moratorium on new residential development.
His speech included several issues, including how other areas have dealt with sprawl and, locally, how continued development in the town has ignored the villages of Depew and Lancaster.
At one point, he said, "What we're doing here is building a ring of riches around a slum." At another point, he said, "You have a government that has allowed the center, the jewel of our town -- the village -- to become an armpit."
But since the board meeting, Zarbo's political opponents have capitalized on the words "armpit" and "slum."
Outraged village officials played an audiotape of Zarbo's remarks during a recent board meeting and subsequently passed a resolution demanding an apology from him. They also requested that Supervisor Robert H. Giza, a Democrat, and the rest of the Town Board renounce the "insulting and unfounded" comments.
"Councilman Zarbo is elected to represent the village residents in town issues. It is extremely insulting to village residents that their elected representative would refer to our community as a slum and armpit," said Village Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr., a Democrat.
Town Councilman Mark M. Montour, a Democrat who is running for re-election next month, called Zarbo's comments malicious and disparaging.
"To refer to the Village of Lancaster as a slum and an armpit of the community are clearly and unequivocally a denigration of the Village of Lancaster," he said.
The Town Board, which has one other Republican besides Zarbo, unanimously passed the resolution last week denouncing Zarbo's remarks, but Zarbo did not attend the meeting, calling it a "dog and pony show."
"Your deceitfulness and duplicity have hit an all-time low," Zarbo wrote to Giza in a statement. "You have taken a minute fragment of something I said and continue to use it to incite the uninformed."
The comments were taken out of context, Zarbo said, adding that he made the statements to convey a larger issue: the fact that the village and Depew are being ignored.
"The problem is development, in general, that the town has allowed the building of opulent rings of subdivisions around the village. We need to be encouraging people to invest in the villages instead of ignoring them like they've been doing," he said. "But they completely ignored the body of the conversation, which was to encourage the rehabilitation of the village. I was just saying it's not fair, but they spun it perfectly."
There's "some element of undeniable truth" to what Zarbo is saying, according to Jack Beilman, the former president of a defunct coalition of taxpayers groups in Erie County.
"That is the nature of a lot of the building that's been going on," he said.
Zarbo offered a defiant apology: "I do apologize to anyone that was offended by the way Montour and Giza have twisted my statement."
Lancaster Republican Committee Chairman James Perry said the committee has been working on a response ever since it happened, but he provided no further comment.