The board of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority on Thursday demanded the immediate resignation of Joseph A. Mascia, a tenant-elected commissioner caught on tape using a racial slur to refer to prominent local African-American leaders.
But Mascia said he isn’t stepping down, even though other BMHA board members unanimously passed a resolution asking him to leave. If he doesn’t resign, the case could be sent to the BMHA Ethics Review Board.
Mascia said people have told him not to step down.
“What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to let those people down because the administration doesn’t want me or feels that I’m a threat?” said Mascia, who is also a candidate for the Fillmore District Common Council seat.
Mascia’s troubles deepened Thursday afternoon when the Erie County Board of Elections ruled Mascia ineligible for the Conservative line. Though he needed only eight signatures to qualify for the minor-party line, the board determined the witness to his designating petitions had not submitted the proper information, according to Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr.
A Democrat seeking to challenge incumbent Council Member David A. Franczyk in the party’s September primary, Mascia also had received approval to run on the Conservative line. But Mohr said that, barring any successful appeal, Mascia can now compete only in the Democratic primary.
Even that effort is now threatened, Mohr said, since Mascia faces challenges to his Democratic petitions too. Those objections will be judged by the local board on Monday, Mohr added.
Business went on as usual during the BMHA board meeting’s first hour on Thursday. Mascia, who arrived roughly 20 minutes late, inquired about motions and asked for a copy of people interested in an employment program.
But the atmosphere turned sour when Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett read a letter from the Community Action Organization of Erie County, an antipoverty agency, about Mascia’s taped comments.
“To find him to be so blatantly and consciously racist nearly emptied me ... To find that such a person actually seeks to become the Fillmore District Council person and continues to sit on the BMHA board of commissioners strains one’s ability to believe,” said the letter from L. Nathan Hare, CAO president and chief executive officer.
Members of the BMHA board went into executive session to discuss a tape of Mascia’s comments. Mascia and all other meeting attendees were asked to leave the room for the conversation.
After the board delivered its decision, Mascia stressed that he isn’t going anywhere, and that he has no intentions of dropping his candidacy for the Fillmore seat.
“The people know me. The people know who I am. They know what I’m about. They know that I’m a fighter. There’s been enough press in the past about what I’ve done, how I’ve done it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I was approached to run in the first place,” he said.
But some officials and community leaders doubt Mascia’s ability to govern.
“I don’t think he should represent anybody. Unless he can say this event is a ‘Paul on the way to Damascus moment’ he needs to get out of politics,” said Leonard Williams, constituent services assistant for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and a former BMHA tenant commissioner.
Mascia apologized about the tape on Thursday, in which he says of black politicians: “Once they’re in power, forget about it, forget it. They want it all.”
He also uses the N-word to refer to Mayor Byron W. Brown, Council President Darius G. Pridgen and other black elected leaders.
But Mascia is suspicious of the timing of the tape’s emergence. It was recorded by a former employer while the two were riding in a vehicle several months ago.
“Kind of strange that nine months ago a comment was made that was wrong, that was recorded. Why would he record it then and now it shows up two days before the board meeting?”
Williams disagreed, but he added that some board members “aren’t comfortable” with Mascia’s outspokenness.
“If he’s saying it’s because someone’s trying to set him up he’s crazy,” Williams said. “Joe has been his own worst enemy.”
It’s not the first time the BMHA has tried to oust Mascia. The authority tried to remove him from the ballot in last year’s election for tenant representatives, claiming he had vacated his seat when he pleaded guilty to an election law misdemeanor in connection with his 2012 run for the State Assembly. A State Supreme Court judge ruled in his favor, and he was the top vote-getter among seven candidates for the two tenant-elected seats on the board.
For now, Mascia is tightly holding to his seat. He said he’d only quit at the request of public housing residents.
He might learn about the thoughts of the people he represents as early as next week. A meeting of the Residents Advisory Board is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the Alfred D. Price Courts.
“I made a mistake. The people elected me. If the people don’t want me that’s the people’s choice,” Mascia said.
News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.