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Vulgar incident in Lancaster village break room becomes Town Board campaign issue

Vulgar incident in Lancaster village break room becomes Town Board campaign issue

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A video recording of a Village of Lancaster employee singing vulgar and misogynist lyrics about women's menstrual cycles in a break room has emerged as an issue in the race for Lancaster Town Board.

Some town residents are calling for Adam L. Dickman to step down as a board member after he recorded a public works department laborer making obscene comments about women in the presence of a female co-worker and other male employees.

Adam L. Dickman

Adam L. Dickman

Dickman, who works as a laborer in the village’s public works department, is running for re-election Nov. 2 to the Town Board.

Also in the running for two open board seats are incumbent Michael J. Wozniak Jr., a state construction engineer; Mark R. Burkhard; a surgical nurse; and Paul H. Rudz, a cost estimator and assessor. Both seats come with four-year terms.

Rudz and Wozniak are running as Democrats, while Dickman and Burkard are on the Republican and Conservative lines. Wozniak’s name also appears on the Working Families party line.

Video of the crude performance has been circulating around the town since mid-July and recently was posted to the WNYmedia.net website. Critics said Dickman was complicit in allowing the female co-worker to be sexually harassed in a workplace and should resign.

“Council Member Dickman, I saw your video. As a woman, I’m highly offended and deeply disappointed. As a resident, I ask for your resignation from this Council and from your job,” Suzanne Kelly said at an Oct. 4 board meeting.

The video lasts about two minutes. At one point it focuses on the female employee who is looking at a cellphone while seated at a table, as the laborer sings lyrics alluding to menstrual cycles. Male laughter can be heard in the background.

Dickman: 'Should have stopped it'

Dickman said at the board meeting he couldn't comment because of an ongoing investigation, but he acknowledged in an interview with The News that he and other employees recorded video of the incident.

He said he did not send the video to anyone other than the woman's stepfather, who also works for the Public Works Department and was mentioned in the song but was not at work that day.

"I just wanted to let him know what happened. He was the only person I sent it to, for her protection. That's why I sent it to him," said Dickman.

Dickman said he then deleted the video from his phone because he didn't want it to go anywhere else.

In hindsight, Dickman said he regrets not immediately objecting to the vulgar song performance.

"Should I have stopped what was happening from happening? Yes, I should have. I didn't. Looking back at it, I realize I made a mistake and should have stopped it," he said. "I can say I wish I had done it a little differently."

But Dickman said the incident is now being used by political opponents as "leverage to try and defame my character."

"It's despicable in my opinion that somebody would use something like that as a political attack," he said.

The video was posted to WNYmedia.net, a website that focuses on progressive politics, on Sept. 29 along with an article critical of Dickman.

The sordid episode has started to overshadow other campaign issues, including debate over how the board should handle future residential and commercial development, improve town infrastructure and preserve green space.

The woman in the video, who is a college student and worked on a seasonal basis for the village, has hired attorney Lindy Korn to represent her.

Korn said the incident created a hostile work environment for her client.

“This sort of behavior reminds me of 'Mad Men,' ” said Korn, referring to the hit cable television show that portrayed a sexist culture at a large New York City advertising firm in the 1950s and '60s. “Why is this tolerated? Where are the policies? Where is the training? Why was this videoed? Why is this funny? It’s a beacon from another era.”

Korn said she was waiting to see what the village does before determining next steps.

Candidates weigh in

Rudz, who is currently a village trustee, said the laborer singing in the video was immediately suspended, and the trustees hired the Hodgson Russ law firm to do an investigation that included examining the role others may have played in the incident. Rudz said he recused himself at that point because he was running against Dickman for a Town Board seat and “didn’t want the perception that I was going after him.”

The laborer ultimately was terminated, pending arbitration with the bargaining unit that represents him, and the investigation was closed, with no discipline for any other employees, said Rudz.

But Rudz said he believes the village must still hold others accountable for what happened.

“This event was a staged event. It wasn’t a spontaneous event. It was planned and the cameras were in place, and everyone had everything ready, save for a bag of popcorn. They were ready for the show,” he said. “There’s a need for other people to be disciplined. They were complicit.”

Rudz said he also believes Dickman’s political allies in the village and town are trying to keep the incident under wraps to improve his chances of winning re-election.

“Whether I was running or not, I would say there should have been a need for additional discipline,” he said.

Wozniak said he had not seen the video but was aware of its contents, which he called “shameful.”

He also said that Dickman should have told his co-worker to knock it off and instead encouraged him by recording the incident.

“He just totally fumbled,” said Wozniak. “If I was in that room when that event transpired, I would have told the guy to stop. That video would never have existed if I were in that room.”

Burkard, who has aligned himself with Dickman during the campaign, described the incident as "inappropriate." Burkard said he did not have detailed knowledge of the Village Board's investigation, but it was his understanding that Dickman was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The controversy over the video is happening against a backdrop of highly contentious politics in Lancaster that has brought legislation to a standstill in recent years.

When the town’s Republican and Democratic parties took the unusual step of cross-endorsing a full slate of candidates in the June primary elections that didn’t include Dickman, a splinter group of Republicans organized to create their own slate of candidates.

Dickman and Burkard won the Republican primaries against Rudz and Wozniak, while Rudz, a registered Republican, and Wozniak, a Conservative, won the Democratic primaries. Dickman and Burkard also defeated Wozniak in the Conservative primary.

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My byline has run in the Ithaca Journal, USA Today, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the New York Times. I have been a staff reporter at The Buffalo News since 2002 and currently am part of the watchdog team.

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