One gets caught on tape repeatedly using America’s most vile racial slur, after making a career of fighting for Buffalo’s public housing tenants, most of whom are black.
The other complained that the Commodore Perry public housing complex, filled almost entirely with African-Americans, will drive down the value of his nearby development property and he is “just praying that they don’t rehab those apartments and put people back in them.”
One regularly worked with black tenants and housing advocates to improve the lot of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority residents, before using the N-word to describe black elected officials and the authority’s executive director.
The other never is caught using that word. Instead, he puts his money where his mouth is, donating to every white member of the Erie County Legislature – Democrat or Republican – and every white member of the Buffalo Common Council, but giving nothing to current black members of either elected body, according to an analysis by the Public Accountability Initiative.
One’s racial slur draws immediate condemnation and calls for his political exile, from both black and white members of the political establishment, as well as other members of his own board. The other’s racist rants and forwarding of emails depicting the black president and first lady in despicable terms drew silence from those same elected officials.
The contrasting treatment of BMHA Commissioner Joseph Mascia and School Board member Carl Paladino is a case study in the nuances of race, power and wealth in a city that’s now testing the axiom that actions speak louder than words.
Mascia’s slurs are abhorrent. After first denying he ever used the N-word – thus adding “liar” to his résumé – the Council candidate said after hearing the recording that he was goaded into it by someone trying to set him up. However, no one can draw out of you what’s not already inside.
But Mascia is a relatively powerless gadfly, making him an easy target for the condemnation he so richly deserves.
Paladino, on the other hand, is a wealthy developer and political power broker whose money and influence seem to have neutered the principles that other leaders apply so easily against Mascia.
Earlier this year, the Public Accountability Initiative compiled a handy compendium of Paladino’s most outrageous slurs on blacks, women, the poor, gays and, most recently, Asians. The nonprofit that researches power, corruption and the connections between business and government also delved into his political contributions, tax breaks and bank financing.
Those latter relationships make the contrasting reactions so illuminating.
Paladino is “a huge part of the local civic culture,” said Director Kevin Connor, explaining why PAI undertook its analysis. The Top 10 recipients of his largesse, it found, range from Republican Rep. Chris Collins to Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz to, curiously enough, Mascia himself.
“He wouldn’t have that influence if his money wasn’t accepted by local politicians,” Connor said of Paladino.
But it is, and he does – raising the issue of which offensive public figure we should be more outraged about: the one with power, or the one without.