Erie County Legislator Dino Fudoli confessed his past demons publicly in the first few moments of Tuesday evening's debate for Lancaster town supervisor.
Then, the revelation involving his past drug use faded into the ornate curtained walls of the Lancaster Opera House as Fudoli and incumbent Supervisor Robert H. Giza squared off to exchange viewpoints on issues facing Lancaster residents.
Fudoli, 40, the Republican candidate, began his three-minute opening statement referring to Tuesday's Buffalo News front-page article and admitted that "at one point in time" he was an addict. He explained that it is not something he is proud of, but it is "something that is part of [his past]" and that overcoming the problem has changed his life.
"It's made me a better father, husband and a better Christian," Fudoli said.
After tackling the issue about his past, Fudoli sharply turned into explaining why he seeks to take the supervisor's job from the 74-year-old Giza, the Democrat who has held it since 1996 and has been on the Town Board since 1981.
"It's time for us to take on some new leadership," Fudoli said.
Town spending and taxes were front and center for the hourlong debate in a packed Opera House.
The upstart Fudoli favors dramatic cuts in town spending to reduce the tax rate, which he says is threatening to drive people out of the town.
Giza said the town has reduced expenses and created efficiencies where it can and pointed out that Lancaster has actually grown in population.
Some of the other issues that were debated included town employees sharing the cost of their health care, police protection, intermunicipal cooperation and business development.
Giza said he got into public service as a way to help people. From a family of modest means, he didn't have the financial wherewithal to do it, so he volunteered for everything, he said. He said he was proud of his accomplishments as supervisor and has dedicated himself to the service of the town.
"Lancaster was always great. I wanted to make it better," he said.
Fudoli countered Giza's comments by saying that the town is great "in spite of our government." "Lancaster is a great community because of its people," Fudoli said.
The two clashed over the supervisor's use of a town vehicle. Fudoli said he will not take one, if elected, and promised to give back a portion of his salary as well as extra stipends the supervisor collects.
Giza defended his use of a town four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle, calling it "a moving office." One of the questions from the public was what is "the most important issue facing the town." Giza said it is creating jobs for Lancaster residents to stay in Lancaster. He believes the town is headed in the right direction. It grew nearly 2,000 people between 2000 and 2010 and, along with Clarence, was one of the few areas that did show population growth.
Fudoli said his door-to-door campaign stopping at more than 2,500 homes has shown that Lancaster residents feel otherwise. Seniors have told them they are financially strapped by the increased tax bills they've faced, which, according to Fudoli, have gone up 50 percent since 2005. He chided the town for finding innovative ways to raise taxes such as revaluing properties when it "runs out of money."
After the debate, Fudoli said he was pleased it remained "about the issues" but reiterated he felt compelled to bring up his past struggles with addiction and "hit it head on," because of the timeliness of the article in Tuesday's News. He said it was obviously being talked about in the community in advance of the debate and that, according to Fudoli, representatives for Giza were handing out copies of The News outside the Opera House before the debate.
In the article, Fudoli also denied reports that he had provided drugs to young people, including a 20-year-old Depew waitress who died of an overdose after attending a "rave party" in 1999.
"I had to get it out there," he said afterwards. "I'm going to be straightforward about it. I've been straightforward about it from the get-go. I haven't tried to hide anything."