Tardiness and contentiousness threatened to derail the first of this week’s four forums for the tenant candidates running for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners. It almost didn’t get started.
Only one of the six hopefuls – former commissioner Leonard Williams – was in his seat at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when the session was scheduled to begin in the Community Room at Holling Homes, off Virgil Avenue in North Buffalo.
“All of the candidates were invited to be here,” said moderator Ramona Gallagher of the League of Women Voters, which is overseeing the pre-election process. “We have the name tags up. The others we talked with personally or emailed.”
Shortly after Gallagher said she would give the others 20 minutes to arrive, Chauntney Johnson, a young mother and third-generation BMHA resident, took her seat.
By 6:15, Yvonne Martinez, president of the Lakeview Homes Tenants Association, and Sharon Graham-Hunter, a resident of Kenfield Homes, had their places.
With four present, Gallagher got started, announcing that the election is June 10 and that two tenant representative positions are open on the BMHA Board of Commissioners, a seven-member policy-making body, of which five members are appointed by the mayor.
But before she went on, Sam Smith, chairman of Jurisdiction-Wide Resident Council of Buffalo, which represents public housing tenants across the city, objected to the presence of a BMHA security officer.
“I don’t think it’s proper to have BMHA personnel who can intimidate people,” he contended. “Personally, I don’t think he should be here.”
A fifth candidate, Robin Edwards, a resident of Langfield Homes, rushed in as Gallagher was proposing a vote on whether to let the security man stay. A show of hands among the dozen or so spectators banished him to the front hall.
Then Elaine Diallo, a current commissioner, and Williams challenged the League of Women Voters over removing a seventh candidate from the field – four-term commissioner Joseph Mascia, a relentless critic of BMHA management – over what may or may not have been a violation of his oath of office.
“You are disenfranchising the residents,” Williams said. “He should be able to answer the questions right along with us.”
Mascia arrived during the exchange and spectators voted again, approving his participation. Gallagher hastily took the name tag of the absent sixth candidate – Sylvia Wilson – and wrote Mascia’s name on the back side.
In the abbreviated debate, the six were unanimous in their willingness to fight hard for the tenants as well as in condemning BMHA practices – especially the $800,000-plus given to the Buffalo Police Department annually.
The other forums, all from 6 to 8 p.m., will be held tonight in the Lakeview Homes Senior Community Room, 345 Trenton Ave.; Thursday in the Frederick Douglass Community Center, 234 Jefferson Ave.; and Friday in the Martha Mitchell Community Center, 175 Oakmont Ave. Mascia promised that he will be on hand for all.