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Longtime mayoral spokesman Stephen T. Banko III is considering whether to leave the Masiello administration and has been talking with officials of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about a possible job.

Banko confirmed Thursday that he has discussed a position with HUD but emphasized that nothing is final.

"I have been offered a community builder's fellowship with HUD, and I've had preliminary conversations with people in Washington," he said.

Mayor Masiello said that he is aware of Banko's preliminary talks with HUD but that his aide has not yet told him whether he is leaving.

"He is considering leaving; I think they reached out to him," the mayor said. "And it has always been my position to support people who want to move on with their professional lives."

If Banko lands the HUD position, it would mark the second time in two years that he has left City Hall. He resigned in early 1996 to take a short-lived post as a political consultant with Joe Slade White & Co. of Buffalo but left a few months later and was rehired by the mayor.

Banko has served with Masiello since 1983, when Masiello was a state senator, and has long been considered a close friend.

The mayor said Banko's possible departure has nothing to do with an assertion in a new book by B.G. Burkett that Banko was not entitled to the Distinguished Service Cross, an Army medal for extraordinary heroism that he said he was awarded in 1968 for Vietnam War service.

Banko maintains the medal was pinned on his pillow by a general while he was heavily sedated in a Vietnam hospital after being wounded. He had deleted the reference to the medal from his resume before the challenge by Burkett.

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