Two tenant organizations representing Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority residents voted overwhelmingly Friday to request Joseph A. Mascia step down as a BMHA tenant commissioner.
The vote was 17-1, with three abstentions, and followed a lengthy discussion by the group, whose members included Leonard Williams, a tenant leader and former BMHA tenant commissioner who was among those Mascia referenced with the “N word” in a recorded conversation made public last week.
“I have not prayed about anything in my life as much as I’ve prayed about this,” Williams said. “My church teaches you have to offer forgiveness. I need to get to this place. I am struggling with this personally.”
Sam Smith, another tenant leader, told the group Mascia’s racist comments went beyond the individuals mentioned in the taped recording, and also reflected upon the larger African-American community. It is therefore important, he said, that public housing residents make a clear and public stance against such hate speech.
“Rev. Pridgen has thousands of parishioners,” Smith said of Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who is also a Baptist minister, and also among the targets of Mascia’s racist remarks. The parishioners of Pridgen’s church, Smith said, “they will look at us. As residents of the BMHA, they will look at us and say: ‘How could you have someone call all of us this, and our pastor, and our mayor this”? How can you have this man representing you?
“It’s in our best interest,” Smith said, “to say there is no way we want this person representing us.”
Members of the BMHA’s Resident’s Advisory Board and Residents’ Council originally met Monday to discuss the taped conversation in which Mascia repeatedly used the N-word when referring to the area’s African-American leaders. But a vote on the issue was delayed because one of the tenant group leaders believed Mascia would resign on his own, possibly on Tuesday.
When Mascia said he wasn’t resigning, the group rescheduled for Friday. Some tenants Friday said while they consider Mascia’s comments reprehensible, they also recognize that Mascia worked hard for BMHA tenants over the years. Some tenants, however, said they are beginning to question Mascia’s motives.
Williams said Mascia’s only true interest is the Marine Drive apartments, where Mascia lives.
One of the Marine Drive residents at the meeting disputed that, saying Mascia also talked about the needs and concerns of other BMHA properties.
Two of those abstaining in Friday’s vote, as well as the one “no” vote, were residents of Marine Drive apartments. Judy Jones, the president of the Marine Drive tenants association, called what Mascia said despicable, but that Marine Drive tenants are planning an upcoming meeting with Mascia before taking a position on the issue.
Mascia was not at Friday’s meeting. When told of the vote, he responded by calling the group a kangaroo court, then asked: “Nine years of service to residents doesn’t count for anything? Helping them on a daily basis 24/7 when no one else would respond to their calls?
“Since all this came out,” Mascia continued, “residents are still calling me for help because they don’t know where to go.”
Mascia repeated Friday that he has no plans to resign from the board he was first elected to in 2006.
“They want me to resign, but they can’t make me,” Mascia said of the tenant groups. He then added: “If I stay and fight, they will keep hammering me. If I run and go, they will call me a coward. ‘He couldn’t face the music,’ they’ll say.
“Who do you want to be in a foxhole with,” he asked. “The guy who fights or the guy who stays?”
The tenants’ vote will be sent to the BMHA, which has started proceedings that could lead to Mascia’s eventual ouster from the BMHA board.
A BMHA Ethics Committee on Wednesday reviewed the case, and voted unanimously to send it to Mayor Byron W. Brown, who has the authority to appoint a hearing officer to determine if Mascia should be removed from office.
Mascia, meanwhile, is also continuing his run for Fillmore District Common Council seat.