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Union confrontations, combative style led to Fudoli’s downfall in Lancaster election

When Dino J. Fudoli became the first Republican town supervisor of Lancaster in a generation in 2012, many liked his no-nonsense approach and he won accolades for keeping taxes down.

The personal trainer with an obvious love for bodybuilding quickly developed a reputation for his combative nature and unwillingness to compromise, and soon he was butting heads with members of the board, the police union and others. Contracts went unsettled and resentments festered.

“Government is about consensus and working with people for the common good, and not ‘my way, or the highway,’ and that’s how he operates,” said Town Democratic Chairman Paul Tarapacki. “I predicted he was going to get crushed. He was ready to implode. It was a train wreck waiting to happen.”

Johanna Metz Coleman, a longtime Democratic town clerk, toppled Fudoli on Election Day by 58 percent to 42 percent.

The wide margin of victory turned heads.

“I was surprised by the amount of the victory,” said Ron Giza, son of a former supervisor. “I knew it was a dogfight. The unions were huge. Our game plan was, from the start, get the unions together. The unions were upset with the contracts, and not just the Democrats.”

Many factors snowballed into an avalanche of problems for Fudoli.

Without question, the nearly four years of unsettled contracts for four unions led to bitterness. Even Fudoli acknowledged before the election that union bosses were “mad” at him.

With the exception of a recent arbitration settlement with town police for 2012 and 2013, unionized workers in the white-collar, blue-collar and dispatch unions have not had pay raises for the last four years.

Also dogging Fudoli was his continuing pattern of not paying back taxes, which dates to his first bid for supervisor in 2011. Current county property records show a combined total of $18,764 in unpaid back taxes in his name for two Transit Road properties in Cheektowaga that he says mostly have been deemed wetlands with limited development potential.

But his temper appears to have been his major downfall.

“His whole angry act with the community wore out,” said one political insider who declined to be named for fear of retribution. “It was his combative attitude and the fact that he fought with everyone for four years on everything – with the town, the village, the Redskins (mascot) thing he stuck his nose into ... People were sick of it.”

The confrontations had grown worse over the last couple of years:

• October 2013 – Angry words were exchanged over emails regarding a skate park. Fudoli lashed out at Councilman Ronald Ruffino Sr., which led to him criticizing the entire board. He then vowed to no longer send emails about anything to council members.

• Christmas season in 2014 – Fudoli got into a public battle with school officials and town youth bureau staff over his decision not to allow town trucks to pick up toy donations in Cheektowaga for needy families, which the town had done for years. In the end, the police union rented a U-Haul to pick up the toys.

• January 2015 – Fudoli called on the School Board to resign, lashing out at the district for raising taxes while reaping the benefits of Industrial Development Agency-backed projects.

• Aug. 17 – At a board meeting, there was a heated exchange between Fudoli and Councilwoman Donna Stempniak over development concerns a resident had raised. Fudoli accused her and the other board members of appointing their friends to the Planning Board. Fudoli talked over Stempniak. Stempniak told Fudoli not to “bully” her and reminded him of her First Amendment rights. He told her she “didn’t have the floor” and that she could “take them out into the hall.”

• October – Dennis M. Komrek, head of the white-collar union, found himself in a heated argument with Fudoli over his union’s unresolved contract just two weeks before the election during a budget hearing. Komrek accused Fudoli of ripping up a paper in his face at one point. Komrek demanded that Fudoli let him speak publicly. Fudoli said he might ask Komrek to leave the meeting.

Then came the eve of the election.

It was standing-room only at Town Hall. Unionized police and highway workers lined council chambers. Fudoli faced a raucous meeting as he was grilled about unresolved union contracts, including the police force’s.

The crowning moment came Election Day morning outside Twin District Fire Hall polling station, a little more than 12 hours after the town meeting.

Fudoli found himself in the midst of an argument with Richard K. Albert, an off-duty police officer.

A police union official said Fudoli threatened to punch Albert, who had gone to vote at the fire hall on William Street.

Fudoli said Albert harassed him.

Fudoli called the incident “nonsense” and said he didn’t make any threats.

But Albert said he overheard Fudoli say to Lindsay Weisenburg, the GOP town clerk candidate he was standing beside at the time, that he wanted to punch him in the face.

The incident involving the police officer was done to “rile me up,” Fudoli said on election night, accusing the police of harassing him at the town meeting and referring to them as “thugs.”

“I can’t speak. Because of what that police officer did to me, there’s a lot of legal ramifications that are going to come out of this. That thing was staged and a clear indication of police bullying,” Fudoli said in a post-election interview. “This is not over. There’s a lot of things going on right now. A lot of stuff I can’t talk about.”

Cayuga Club Police Benevolent Association President Shaun DiMino said the investigation into the Election Day incident continues.

“I will reiterate that there was no set up,” DiMino said. “We put the facts in front of the people in the Town of Lancaster so that they were better equipped to make an educated decision when going to the polls.”

No charges have been filed.

“We remain in the process of a thorough and objective investigation, and the matter remains among the list of our priorities,” Police Chief Gerald J. Gill Jr. told The News. “We’re seeking the facts right now.”

Since his election loss, Fudoli has kept a low profile and has been somewhat measured in his public comments – although he congratulated Coleman earlier this week at the town meeting and wished her luck.

In the midst of the political turmoil, is a new day about to dawn at Lancaster Town Hall?

“I think so,” Coleman said. “There is a sense of renewal for the people I am surrounded by. I’m not a confrontational person. I won this election because I went out and met the people, and for years, have met them at the counter.”

email: krobinson@buffnews.com