Joseph A. Mascia says politics, not his use of the N-word, is behind the campaign to remove him.
Mascia, a tenant representative at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, began a defense Monday that suggests he was targeted because of his past criticism of Mayor Byron W. Brown and the authority.
Mascia also claims his use of the N-word, caught on an audio tape made public earlier this year, flies in the face of everything he has ever done in public life.
“We intend to prove Joe Mascia is not a racist,” defense lawyer Steven M. Cohen said in his opening statement Monday. “His record will speak loudly and clearly to that fact.”
Brown suspended Mascia from the authority’s board of commissioners in August, after the recording was made public, and the BMHA’s Ethics Committee recommended he be permanently removed.
Brown’s lawyers say Mascia’s legal defense is designed to draw attention away from the real issue – his racist comments. Mascia claims he was targeted for removal because of his allegations of political corruption at the BMHA.
In the recording, Mascia uses the N-word numerous times while criticizing Brown, BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett and other African-American leaders.
“We’re here to talk about the language Mr. Mascia used,” said Shauna L. Strom, a lawyer for the city. “I object to him alleging corruption.”
To bolster Mascia’s claims, Cohen called several witnesses who testified about Mascia’s work with African-American tenants over the years.
They testified that, despite Mascia’s derogatory comments about Brown and other black leaders, he has a reputation for helping people of all colors. Mascia claims he used the N-word out of frustration and has indicated he should have instead used the word “crooks” to describe Brown and others.
“Joe Mascia is a very strong advocate for all, and I stress all, tenants,” said Elaine Diallo, a former tenant representative on the BMHA board.
Diallo, an African-American, said Mascia never exhibited any type of racist behavior toward her or the tenants he often tried to help. She also thinks Mascia’s frustration in dealing with the BMHA was a factor in the words he chose to use that day.
Strom countered by challenging Diallo’s credibility and suggesting her decision not to run for re-election last year was due to a separate allegation against her.
“Was there not a complaint that you were asking for kickbacks?” Strom asked.
Diallo said there was no such complaint against her and suggested more than once that BMHA officials tried to pressure her to resign from the board.
The back and forth between Diallo and Strom was reflective of a courtroom environment that also continued to pit Cohen against Ann E. Evanko, the administrative law judge appointed by Brown to hear the matter.
Cohen has repeatedly accused Evanko of being one-sided in her rulings from the bench and, on Monday, threatened to post a transcript of her rulings on his law firm’s website for all to see.
“Mr. Cohen,” Evanko said at one point, “the threats are not appreciated.”
Cohen also noted that, with Mascia’s term set to expire in June, he will have little time to appeal her decision.