Buffalo Common Council candidate Joseph A. Mascia, in a taped conversation, is heard making racist remarks about Mayor Byron W. Brown, Council President Darius G. Pridgen and other African-American officials.
On the tape, a copy of which has been obtained by The Buffalo News, Mascia repeatedly uses the N-word when referring to African-American leaders, and also says of black politicians: “Once they’re in power, forget about it, forget it. They want it all.”
After listening to the recording with two Buffalo News reporters Wednesday afternoon, Mascia said he is disappointed in himself and very sorry. He said the remarks were “totally out of character for me.” Mascia said he will personally apologize to everyone mentioned on the tape, but he said he has no intention of leaving the race for the Fillmore District seat on the Council .
On the recording, Mascia is heard at least eight times using the N-word when referring to Brown, Pridgen, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Dawn Sanders-Garrett, executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
On the recording, apparently made several months ago with a cellphone while Mascia, 70, was riding in a vehicle with a former employer, Mascia also made a crude remark about a man of Middle Eastern descent.
Mascia is the Erie County Conservative Party’s endorsed candidate for the Fillmore District seat, and he also is entered in a three-way Democratic Party primary for the post. Since 2006, he has also been an elected tenant representative on the BMHA’s board of commissioners, and he has been an outspoken advocate for better public housing in Buffalo.
Brown on Wednesday night called on Mascia to resign his BMHA post if Mascia made the statements.
“I have been made aware of the existence of a tape that allegedly contains statements that are unacceptable and inflammatory by any standard. One of the main priorities of my administration has been to encourage all businesses, organizations and residents to embrace diversity and to demonstrate a commitment to building, cultivating and preserving a culture of inclusion, fairness and equity in Buffalo. Clearly, if Mr. Mascia can’t deny making these statements, he should immediately resign his elected position as a commissioner of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.”
The recording prompted Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, whom Mascia is hoping to unseat, to say that Mascia is “unfit for public office.”
“It’s atrocious and vile. It sounds like language in the 1860s old South,” Franczyk said of Mascia’s remarks. “It’s pretty scary stuff.”
Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo expressed shock over the remarks.
Lorigo said he plans to listen to the remarks for himself and talk to Mascia about the situation. He said it is too soon to predict whether Conservatives will continue to support Mascia’s candidacy. “I have no tolerance for this kind of issue,” Lorigo said. “But I have known Joe for about three years, and I have never heard him talk like that. … I’ve got to call Joe and tell him this does put him in risk and jeopardy.”
Jeremy J. Zellner, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, said Mascia should “exit the race.”
“It’s despicable. There’s no excuse,” Zellner said.
Mascia’s remarks were recorded by Paul Christopher, who runs a local janitorial company where Mascia has worked in the past. Mascia said the recording was made when he was riding in a vehicle that Christopher was driving.
“Paul was baiting me, asking me what I thought about the mayor, or this person or that person,” Mascia said. “I can’t believe a person who is a friend would make a tape like that. … But I have no excuses. I should not have said those things.”
Christopher told The News that he recorded the conversation because he has known Mascia for decades, had grown tired of his racial views and thought the public should be aware of them.
“I’ve known Joe since I was a kid,” he said, “but I don’t consider him a friend anymore.”
Christopher said he made the recording in February or March while he and Mascia were traveling together to work.
“My faith taught me better,” Christopher said of his Catholic upbringing and his motivation in exposing Mascia. “To me, it’s just wrong. It’s morally unjust.”
Christopher said he was especially upset by Mascia’s public efforts at smearing others, most notably his fellow BMHA board members.
“He was playing with people’s lives. And it’s obvious he has racial issues,” Christopher said.
Christopher said he fired Mascia from his job in April, but for reasons other than his views toward blacks.
With his head deeply bowed at times, Mascia listened to the tape Wednesday afternoon with two News reporters; his campaign manager, Katrinna Martin, who is African-American; and Matthew Ricchiazzi, a friend of Mascia’s who runs a political news website in Buffalo.
“I’m deeply disappointed in Joe. He knows that,” a visibly hurt Martin said after listening to the recording. “Joe needs to make special amends and personal apologies to every political person he mentions there. I agree with Joe that this is out of character for him. I continue to stand up for him because he stands up for the poor and minority people who live in public housing.”
Ricchiazzi said he has known Mascia since 2009 and admired him for trying to improve public housing conditions for minorities and the poor. He said he has never heard Mascia make racist remarks before hearing the recording Wednesday.
When a News reporter first contacted Mascia on Monday to ask him about what were then rumors about the recording, Mascia insisted that he “never, never, never” uses racist language to describe black people and said the recording must be a fake.
After hearing the recording, Mascia admitted that his earlier remarks were wrong.
He said he made the remarks in the heat of anger because he was upset by Brown’s involvement with the housing authority.
Mascia said he is not a racist. He said he has many black friends who encouraged him to run against Franczyk and said he has a biracial nephew to whom he is very close. He said he has worked hard to be an advocate for better public housing for poor people, blacks and other minorities in Buffalo.
“Anybody who knows me knows what I stand for,” he said. “I stand up for minorities and poor people who live in public housing.”
Leonard Williams, a former BMHA board member and now a constituent services assistant with Erie County, is another African-American who was blasted by Mascia on the recording.
“I know Joe is the kind of person who will stab you in the back if it’s in his interest,” Williams said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not surprised he would refer to me in a derogatory way.”
Williams said he found Mascia’s comments especially galling because he is a tenant representative charged with representing a constituency that is largely African-American.
“I don’t know how the man can sleep at night,” Williams said. “Many of those tenants voted for him. They look to him to represent them on the board.”
Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, expressed shock over Mascia’s comments.“I know this guy. I’ve never done anything to him,” she said. “I work for the people no matter what their ethnicity.”
Pridgen had a similar reaction.
“In my 50 years of living, I cannot tell you of a time I’ve been more surprised and disappointed,” he said. “The Common Council has worked together to increase diversity and inclusion in our city. Statements like those allegedly spoken by Mr. Mascia illustrate why our work is not done when it comes to race relations.”
Pridgen said he heard rumors earlier in the week about the Mascia tape, but at the time, didn’t believe it could be true.
“I had just seen Joe at five different events, in which he shook my hand,” Pridgen said.
Pridgen, who is also pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church, said he will pray for Mascia and his team “so they may see beyond color and just see people.”
When he was told Mascia said he would ask for forgiveness, Pridgen responded: “I am a man who believes in God. I can accept an apology. The Bible says to forgive. But it doesn’t say to forget.”
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