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Lancaster voters have distinct choice; Candidates differ in age and views

The race for Lancaster town supervisor is a generational conflict between two candidates whose long-standing family friendship doesn't stop them from disagreeing sharply over the proper role of government.

Robert H. Giza, the Democratic incumbent, was first elected to the Town Board in 1981 and has served as supervisor since 1996.

The lifelong Depew and Lancaster resident seems to know everyone in town, serves on too many community groups and committees to name, and speaks with pride of the services offered to town residents.

"I think I've been getting ready for this job all my life," the 74-year-old Giza said in an interview in his Town Hall office. "I like helping people; I really get a bang out of it."

Dino J. Fudoli is the 40-year-old Republican challenger, a relative newcomer to politics wrapping up his first term on the County Legislature, where he was a reliable supporter of County Executive Chris Collins.

Fudoli faces long odds in taking on a veteran supervisor who can turn to town employees and others who do business with the town to raise money. And he is running in a town where Democrats have a solid edge in registered voters, and where only one Republican has held the top job in recent decades.

He emphasizes his business background and he gets riled up as he denounces government support of cultural institutions, or what he considers excessively generous benefits and pay for town employees.

"In this day and age, everything has to be on the table," Fudoli said. "We have to say, 'No.' "

Giza's office at Town Hall, part of the Lancaster Opera House complex, is filled with totems of his long service to the town and various community groups.

He enjoys getting up during a meeting to show an old picture of his high school football team, for example, or his Boy Scout membership card, and interviews frequently turn to discussion of the many young men he mentored during his 33 years as an official with the Depew-Lancaster Boys & Girls Club.

Giza ran for supervisor after 13 years on the Town Board when his predecessor, Lucian Greco, left the post in an unsuccessful bid for county executive.

He said he's running for another four years in the job, at a time when many his age are well into retirement, because he likes serving town residents.

As supervisor, Giza makes personal visits when homeowners call to complain about flooding, checks to make sure streetlights aren't out and attends numerous festivals, youth sporting events and local concerts.

He's also the face of the town when controversies over development of a movie theater, the merger of the town and village police or the construction of a new police and courts building boil over.

Fudoli, a Lancaster native, has worked for years in family businesses, first managing an Italian restaurant, Cambria's, and now managing rental properties in Lancaster, Alden and elsewhere. He also worked for several years at Merrill Lynch.

Fudoli won election to the County Legislature in 2009 after incumbent Kathy Konst gave up the seat to take a job with the Collins administration.

Before the election, Fudoli was forced to explain how he ended up taking the School Tax Relief exemption on two properties at the same time. Fudoli said this was a mix-up he wasn't able to resolve because of the timing of a house purchase.

"It wasn't intentional," Fudoli insisted.

If he defeats Giza, Fudoli promised to shake things up.

For one, Fudoli said he will give up the town-owned SUV that Giza drives as supervisor, and he will not take reimbursement from the town for any mileage he puts on his personal vehicle.

Fudoli also said he will take a 10 percent pay cut from the supervisor's annual salary of $74,441, and he will not accept an $8,122 stipend for serving as the town's budget officer.

Giza, in response, said he puts a lot of miles on the SUV, driving through flooded or snowed-under areas, and emphasizes how low he ranks -- 28th in 2010, according to town payroll records -- among town employees for take-home pay.

"I'm a full-time supervisor," Giza said.

Fudoli also criticized Giza for taking a $5,600 annual buy-back because he doesn't receive health insurance coverage through the town. Fudoli pointed out that Giza receives health insurance through the Boys & Girls Club, from which he is retired, while the club also receives an annual $237,000 subsidy from the town.

"They're fleecing the taxpayers. That's what this administration does," Fudoli said.

Both Giza and Fudoli, who receives coverage through Erie County, pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

Giza noted that the town has financially supported the Boys & Girls Club for decades and bristled at Fudoli's criticism, saying his opponent can't fight him on the issues so he creates a charge like this one.

"It's a political thing," he said.

This race is personal for Giza, who said he considers Fudoli's father, Ralph, a close friend and onetime political supporter.

Giza has known Dino Fudoli since he was a child, and they both belong to St. Mary's Church in Lancaster.

Fudoli faces an uphill fight in a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3,000 voters out of the more than 28,000 registered in the town.

Greco is the only Republican to win the supervisor's job in recent decades, said Lancaster Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr.

"This is a heavily Democratic town. I know the challenge myself of running as a Republican," said Cansdale, who lost a bitter campaign to Giza in 2003.

Fudoli already scored something of an upset victory when he wrested the Conservative Party line away from Giza in a September primary even though Giza had received the party leaders' backing.

Fudoli also holds the GOP and Independence lines, while Giza has the Democratic and Working Families lines.

Fudoli, in his most recent campaign-finance report to the state Board of Elections, reported a deficit of $1,002. Giza reported having $9,397 on hand.

Giza's contributors include the town attorney, the town's director of administration and finance and the general crew chief in the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

Other donors include businesses that received tax breaks through the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency, including the Olive Tree Restaurant and Try-It Distributing's Eugene P. Vukelic. "That's not uncommon," Giza said.

Giza serves as chairman of the Lancaster IDA, encouraging businesses to relocate to, or expand in, the town. Lancaster's growing tax base is one reason the proposed 2012 budget doesn't include a tax increase.

Fudoli, however, said the town budget as drafted is unrealistic, because it assumes the four unions that represent town employees will accept pay freezes in their new contracts.

The challenger predicted the Town Board won't approve the budget, as written, prior to Election Day and later will raise taxes to cover the additional spending for employee raises.

Giza said the Town Board could take up the budget at its Nov. 7 meeting, one day before the election, and he said the town has enough in reserve funds to cover any raises. The budget must be approved by Nov. 20.

Fudoli said he would make layoffs to offset the cost of any salary increases. He also takes a dim view of government support of culturals.

Lancaster boasts its opera house, and Fudoli has donated $500 to that institution. But he believes the people who patronize the arts should cover more of their costs.

"We have to start getting away from the government being everything to everybody," Fudoli said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com