Republican Dino J. Fudoli pulled off an unexpected victory four years ago, unseating Lancaster’s longtime Democratic town supervisor Robert H. Giza in a heavily Democratic town.
Now Fudoli, 44, billing himself as a fiscal watchdog for taxpayers, is on a roll, hungry for another four years as supervisor. Some privately say he will crush his Democratic challenger, longtime Democratic Town Clerk Johanna Metz Coleman.
But as Tuesday’s election draws closer, the race has grown increasingly heated, with political observers saying Coleman – whose late father, Artel Metz, was a town councilman – is well within striking distance to unseat Fudoli and become Lancaster’s first woman supervisor.
Fudoli is a former Erie County legislator who has an aggressive, feisty management style. He hammers his record of lowering taxes during his tenure, preaches a message of transparency and insists he is not the problem with long-outstanding town employee union contracts.
“I’ve done a good job of keeping my promises to taxpayers, offering the same services while keeping taxes down,” he said. “What’s there to complain about? I’ve brought common sense to Town Hall.”
Coleman, 67, a Lancaster native with deep family roots in the community, is one of eight children.
“Many came begging and pleading with me to run. I thought about it long and hard,” she said. “It was my family that convinced me that it was the right thing to do for the community and me.”
“I’ve sat here for 29 years biting my lip. I have a lot of ideas and would like to put them to use,” said Coleman, a familiar face around Town Hall, 16 years as town clerk and 13 years as tax receiver. “I don’t like what I see happening, and I feel at this point in time, I’m the one person who can change that.”
She and Fudoli are as different as can be, both in style and character.
Standing 5 feet 2 inches tall, the dark-haired, soft-spoken Coleman has a polite, but no-nonsense approach.
Her father’s political career inspired her interest in local government. Describing herself as “strong and determined,” Coleman says she’s a blend of her Italian and German heritage.
Fudoli is short, too. His head is shaved and he has an obvious love of bodybuilding. He is a personal trainer at his gym. Energy drinks are a staple by his side at town meetings. Often unscripted, he speaks his mind, even if it gets him in trouble with critics and supporters alike.
Fudoli and Coleman sit side-by-side at board meetings. Fudoli doesn’t mince words, while Coleman typically remains poised and quiet, speaking only when asked questions. But when interviewed about town government, she speaks her mind.
“My intention is to be a full-time supervisor and treat everyone with the courtesy and respect that I expect to be treated with,” Coleman said.
“I want to see civility restored to town government,” she said. “I don’t throw out shots. That’s not my style. I’m here to work for the people.”
As town clerk, Coleman makes $84,070, including various stipends.
Both candidates have raised considerable money for the campaign – Coleman, nearly $15,000; Fudoli, just shy of $10,000.
Unresolved town employee union contracts and development top the election banter.
Coleman wants to see town union contracts that expired four years ago resolved.
“It’s unfortunate not only to employees, but also to the taxpayers,” she said. “I’ve heard that he,” Fudoli, “is unwilling to negotiate. We need to get union contracts settled. I think it was inappropriate that there are no provisions made for retroactive pay in the budgets for four years” or to pay for contract negotiations.
Fudoli admits the union bosses are “mad” at him.
“The unions are acting as if I’m stonewalling the raises, making it like I’m the bad guy,” he said. “I think town employees are not fully informed by their union bosses and I don’t believe the union bosses are taking my offer back to the members for a vote.”
Fudoli also said Democrats do not have a strategy to save money.
“Every time there’s a vacancy, they rush to fill it with one of theirs,” he said.
Fudoli has come under scrutiny for his finances.
County property records show Fudoli has a combined total of $18,764 in unpaid back taxes in his name for two Transit Road properties in Cheektowaga, one nearly 12 acres of vacant land.
“The property is worthless and the town keeps raising taxes,” he said, claiming he paid $150,000 in legal fees to challenge Cheektowaga on the property’s value. Much of it is wetlands and has limited development potential, he says.
“At some point in time, I’ll pay them,” he said, before quickly adding, “I don’t think I will.”
Coleman said she wants to encourage development but also weigh the impact on infrastructure.
“Future development needs to be guided to certain areas and must be consistent with existing housing and commercial/industrial patterns of usage,” she said. “Development for the sake of development is not advisable. Commercial and light industrial belong in our Walden Avenue corridor.”
Fudoli said he is pro-development, but with an eye toward “smart growth.” “I don’t want unfettered growth,” he said, noting there needs to be close master plan review.
The full-time supervisor’s post pays $67,000 yearly.