In a political life, you meet all kinds of people: top notch candidates and losers, high dollar donors and true believer volunteers. Beautiful TV reporters and veteran pencil press, long in the tooth. And douchebags. Plenty of douchebags.
After nearly 30 years in the arena, I’ve met my share of douchebags. The legislative candidate in El Salvador who wanted to organize an assassination attempt against himself to raise his name ID. The Washington gadfly who harassed Bill Clinton then ran for US Senate in Florida, only to finish seventh of eight candidates. A Facist volunteer in Russia who threatened my life, then asked to borrow a hundred dollars in the same breath.
And then there’s Paul Gullo – a self-described political operative arrested on September 11 in Rochester for impersonating a police officer. His story is long, Byzantine and, ultimately, hilarious. But nothing is as funny as his comeuppance with the Rochester Police.
Apparently, Gullo was wandering around shady Monroe Avenue in Rochester in the early morning hours, gathering cash donations for the family of a Rochester Police officer shot dead just days before. Just before closing in a Monroe Avenue bar, an off duty police officer asked what unit he was with. Gullo produced several forms of identification, including a Village of Wolcott Police ID card.
The officer, seeing through the scam, arrested Gullo, who somehow had been appointed to the Town of Naples board and been made Deputy Mayor. He’s not the Deputy Mayor anymore and town officials are investigating if he even lives there. But wait, there's more:
Rochester police were notified by the Wolcott Police Department that Gullo had actually been fired from the department 10 years ago. They also informed Rochester police that they’ve had problems with Gullo impersonating officers in the past.
In fact, public records show Gullo was hired on December 9, 2008 as a part time police officer without benefits for the Village of Wolcott at the rate of $15.00 per hour. When he was fired in August of 2009 he failed to surrender his police identification.
I know that ID: he showed the card to me when I managed Carl Paladino’s campaign for New York governor in 2010. First hired into the campaign political operation, Gullo soon proved he was only there for the business card and an occasional shot at an intern. He couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.
Our campaign director, Nick Sinatra, fired Gullo from his headquarters job and exiled him to a minimum wage gig in the Rochester effort. Why? “The guy’s a douchebag,” Sinatra told me.
Good thing: Gullo was leaking to our opponents and causing attrition in headquarters. One pretty young volunteer told me that if he hadn’t been fired, she was leaving. “He won’t leave me alone,” she said. “He tells me all these stories about how he’s some political player and I can’t get the vision of Uncle Fester from my mind.”
From that point on, Gullo was known as Uncle Fester in the Paladino campaign.
The bald-headed grifter surfaced again when decorated combat veteran David Bellavia ran for Congress to fill the seat left empty when GOP Rep. Chris Lee resigned. The war hero asked me if Gullo was good enough to manage his petition collection. “Why not?’ I said. “We fired him but pickings are slim on this race, so maybe he can prove we were wrong in 2010. When you get on the ballot, we can land a real manager.”
I can never repay Bellavia for that mistake. Gullo created a mess – and not just for Bellavia.
After the Paladino loss, I licked my wounds under the radar in New York politics. Gullo was out in front, talking to local Republicans on behalf of Bellavia. And, as the combat veteran’s petition effort was hitting full stride, the team checked into a Rochester-area hotel to gather the papers and prep the package for submission.
I, too, checked into the hotel to gauge the effort. Returning from petition gathering, a volunteer told me Gullo had whipped out his Wolcott law enforcement ID to a Buffalo Police officer to park illegally. The volunteer also told me Gullo showed him a New York State Driver’s License in the name of Mike Johnson which he claimed to have obtained as an undercover police officer. (No known record exists that Mr. Gullo ever worked undercover as a part time officer.)
Petition sheets were coming in too slowly, so I recruited an expert from out of state. Unfortunately, when we checked the campaign account to pay for his services, we discovered Gullo had squandered a substantial sum on personal items: video rentals, beer, groceries, and clothing. At my request, the campaign clawed back all that misappropriated money from the culprit. But we had to settle for Gullo’s petitioning operation.
I asked Gullo if his collection pace was enough to meet requirements. “Don't’ worry, I’ve got it under control,” he told me, and he promptly disappeared into a hotel room. Moments later, another man came out of the room. Then another. And another. None of them were petitioners – none had anything at all to do with the campaign.
I didn’t think about it at the time, but later everything was clear: When Bellavia submitted his paperwork, his opponents challenged the authenticity of the signatures. We couldn’t understand why; most of the petition gatherers were also veterans. They worked their asses of and didn’t mess around. It just didn’t make sense.
Soon after the challenge was fired, an Albany insider called Bellavia and said if he didn’t drop out of the race, his veteran allies were going to jail. Not knowing what happened or what else to do, the candidate dropped out. Later, we figured it out: blank spaces on partially completed signature sheets collected by the vets were filled in by forgers in the hotel room where Gullo was holed up with his friends. I didn’t witness it, and Bellavia didn’t see it, but we knew he had to drop out to protect his brothers.
Bellavia could have won that race. I’m convinced that if he didn’t have a wife and kids, he would have killed Gullo. I sure wanted to, but for my own reasons.
Right about the time Gullo was finalizing his fraudulent petitions, he contacted Joe Illuzzi, the previous owner of PoliticsNY.net, to trash me anonymously. He told the pamphleteer that I solicited a bribe from Bellavia’s opponents to get him out of the race – tens of thousands of dollars to support a sizeable drug habit.
Of course, none of that was true. Later, Illuzzi was convinced to delete the slander from his Web site. Shortly before he died of cancer, the notorious blogger telephoned to let me know it was Paul Gullo who called him to spin the nasty story.
Meanwhile, Gullo charged $3,000 on Bellavia's personal credit card without permission. He also lived at the Rochester hotel for three weeks after the campaign checked out and never paid the bill. (The Medal of Honor nominee took a second job to pay off Gullo's fraudulent charges himself.)
Later, we also learned that Gullo had approached Bellavia’s opponents and offered to convince him to drop out of the race. In return, he wanted cash and a Congressional job. The experienced Republican team wisely told him to hit the road.
MAN WITHOUT A CANDIDATE
Gullo was widely known for claiming falsely that he was a national political coordinator of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign. According to federal campaign filings, he made $872.12 from the failed presidential effort – perhaps the lowest paid nationwide political manager in history.
In reality, Gullo’s name has only been identified as associated with McCain’s national campaign as a Western New York supporter. Similarly, in 2012, Gullo claimed to have served as senior staff member for the Herman Cain campaign. Indeed, he spent approximately ten days in New Hampshire on behalf of the CEO's campaign. But I worked with Cain’s campaign manager Mark Block in 2013 and he had no idea who Gullo is – and he knows every single staffer who served on the campaign.
After Cain crashed in December, Gullo latched onto New Gingrich’s New Hampshire effort as a volunteer and helped bring New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino to the Granite State. He told Paladino the campaign invited him; the campaign told the media Paladino didn’t come at their request. And when the disconnect blew up in the national media, Gullo insisted he was just a bystander:
“I saw Paladino in New Hampshire, but I didn't organize his trip,” [Gullo] said. “I'm a friend of Carl's, but I'm in this to help Newt.”
So he was totally innocent. Except he wasn’t: Later, people close to Paladino said Gullo called into the Buffalo developer’s office many times, helping organize his trip and misrepresenting his role with the Gingrich campaign. Within a week, the gadfly was history aboard the USS Newt, which sank in April.
IDIOCY IN ISRAEL
Touting his false McCain, Paladino, Bellavia, Cain, and now Gingrich credentials, Gullo made his move. He normally haunted only Western New York politicians, but he popped up in late summer 2012 as chief of staff to New York State Senator David Storobin. Of course, as happens with any politician who breathes the same air as Gullo, scandal soon visited the New York City-area legislator.
Normally, when you represent a heavily Jewish district like Storobin did, a highly publicized visit to Israel wins votes. The Senator, under Gullo’s tutelage, made a mess of his trip. In late August, a photograph appeared of the Republican legislator wearing an Israeli Defense Forces uniform, a helmet and brandishing an M-16 rifle standing atop a tank on the border with Syria. And there, alongside the candidate who apparently never heard of Michael Dukakis, was Gullo sighting his automatic weapon downrange at Damascus.
Needless to say, the comically posed photograph caused a huge stir back home. The Russian-Jewish Senator was ridiculed for insisting falsely the uniform was required. And Gullo, looking like Jackie Coogan in fatigues, was fired soon after they returned home.
Storobin lost his election, and lost again when he ran later for New York City Council. He can’t wash the Gullo off himself.
Later, Gullo told friends he was just along for the ride. People close to Storobin said Gullo personally insisted on the uniforms and automatic weapons, engineered the photo opp – then posed himself hilariously. [“Hold it! Now I'm a badass. Okay… take the pic.”] He then emailed the photo back to New York and ordered it released with a caption indicating “To the right is the Senator's Chief of Staff, Paul Gullo."
Gullo couldn’t hide from his Storobin flameout – the notorious photo went viral. Every political operative had seen it, laughed uproariously at it, then, wiping the tears from their eyes, said: “who the Hell thought this was a good idea?” And right there, holding his rifle like he’d never seen one before, was the culprit. It didn’t bode well for Gullo’s next gig.
FESTERING IN SIBERIA
For the longest time, no other gig came. Gullo wandered from political office to political office, looking for work. At a Spring event in Western New York, he introduced himself to Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs. “You should run for County Executive. I’ll help you,” he told the affable pol. Polite as ever, Jacobs smiled, said he was happy serving as clerk, and moved on in the crowd.
Minutes later, Gullo told a few attendees he was helping get Jacobs set up for his County Executive campaign and would serve as his campaign manager. His comments came back to Jacobs before the event even ended. Tea Party leader Rus Thompson, who was emceeing the event and had experienced Gullo's antics on the Paladino campaign, reportedly dressed the faker down in front of everyone.
At the same event, Gullo sidled up to New York State Assemblyman David DiPietro. He was at it again: he hit DiPietro up for a job, saying he needed the medical insurance. A few people at the event told me Gullo stuck to DiPietro’s side and told one attendee “I’m here with DiPietro.” He wasn't. DiPietro barely knows him.
Many people who had Gullo experiences agree: there’s something profoundly wrong with the guy. He’s constantly conniving, back stabbing, lying, inflating his credentials, and attaching himself to candidates. His police impersonation was seen and believed by many - he told one reporter he is a 15-year police veteran - but he finally flashed his fake credentials to the wrong person: a real life Rochester cop who refused to sit idly by while a liar collected money in the name of his dead colleague.
Word is, Uncle Fester has skipped town. For the sake of us all, let’s hope he stays away for a long time - because New York politics is already lousy with douchebags.