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Olma returns to county government as deputy parks chief

Gregory B. Olma, the former Erie County legislator whose career in public office tanked more than a decade ago after he was accused of hurling racial and sexual slurs at two elections inspectors, is returning to county government.

Olma – who denied the allegations and wound up pocketing $25,000 from the county and $15,000 from the city to settle lawsuits he filed – is slated to become the county’s new deputy commissioner for parks and recreation. The job pays $68,167 a year.

Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, said Olma will begin in his new job Sept. 2. Prior to his appointment, the position had been unfilled, Anderson added.

In addition to Olma, another politically-connected figure has been tapped to join the Poloncarz team. Jonathan D. Rivera, the son of Niagara Council Member David Rivera, began serving as the county executive’s liaison to the Legislature earlier this month, Anderson confirmed Tuesday.

Buzz about the two appointments had been growing louder over the past few days.

During his rather tumultuous history not only in the Legislature, but within local Democratic politics, Olma emerged as a rather colorful figure who was just as famous for tiffs with opponents in his own party as he was for his battles with Republicans.

Despite never serving in elected office again after his Sept. 12, 2000, defeat in the Democratic primary, Olma remains a visible figure in Democratic party politics. He currently serves as a zone chairman for the party, and is widely respected for his political acumen.

He was the main campaign advisor to Legislator Patrick B. Burke, a political neophyte few would have picked to succeed outgoing Minority Leader Thomas J. Mazur in last September’s primary, particularly since Burke had no backing from either of the two fractious wings of the local Democratic party.

Olma got his own start in local politics as an aide to Buffalo lawmaker David A. Franczyk, after which he went on to serve four two-year terms in the Legislature during the 1990s, until he lost a pivotal Democratic primary race in 2000. Olma later said that subsequent allegations against him — which he always denied — were so damaging that he could never recover politically.

On the night of his primary loss as the incumbent candidate, Olma was accused of making racial and sexual slurs to two black, female election inspectors. Based on those charges, he was later handcuffed by Buffalo police officer, taken to Police Headquarters and booked on four misdemeanor charges.

A grand jury later cleared him of any wrong-doing, after which he sued both the county and the city, eventually settling with both.

The experience did not keep Olma from attempting to re-enter local politics, however. In 2005, he ran in and lost a four-person Democratic primary to succeed Edward J. Kuwik in the Legislature. An attempt to win the East District seat on the Buffalo School Board in 2007 also ended in a loss.

Despite not winning public office again, Olma managed to stay employed in county government. He worked as a county grants administrator until his termination in 2008, and filed a lawsuit against then-County Executive Chris Collins over his ouster.

In his new post, Olma will work under Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel.

Meanwhile, Rivera has already been on the job for about two weeks, according to Anderson.

Since December, the position of liaison to the Legislature has been filled on an interim basis by Mark Cornell, who also serves as director of policy and communications for the county executive.

Rivera, according to a biography he has posted online, served as field representative to U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins while a student at Buffalo State College. More recently, he has worked in the local banking industry, including stints at HSBC Bank and Key Bank. Rivera also served as a member of the Erie County Legislature’s Advisory Commission on Reapportionment in 2011.