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Mascia draws criticism, praise during heated hearing

The vitriol showed no signs of letting up Tuesday as allegations of racism, corruption and conflict of interest again dominated the downtown courtroom where Joseph A. Mascia’s fate is being decided.

With Mascia, a commissioner at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, sitting nearby, city lawyers continued to portray the self-described government watchdog as a racist who should be removed from office.

Mascia, who was heard using the N-word numerous times in a conversation earlier this year, has countered with allegations that the legal process against him is rigged and that the city’s real motivation in going after him is politics, not his secretly recorded comments.

“Joe Mascia’s not perfect but he’s the best we got,” said Terry Robinson, an African-American active in preservation projects across the city and a Mascia ally.

Mayor Byron W. Brown suspended Mascia from the authority’s board of commissioners after a recording of his comments became public, and the BMHA’s Ethics Committee recommended he be permanently removed.

Like many other witnesses, Robinson testified that he found Mascia’s comments offensive, even despicable, and yet he’s standing by his friend.

Robinson said he hears the N-word almost every day of his life, often with different meanings, and that he’s convinced Mascia did not intend it as a racial slur.

Among those Mascia referred to using the N-word were Brown, Common Council President Darius Pridgen and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

He also said, in a reference to African-Americans, “Once they get in power, forget it, they want it all.”

“I don’t think he used racial epithets,” Robinson said of the language Mascia used that day.

At times, Robinson found himself in the middle of a sparring match between Mascia’s lawyer, Steven M. Cohen, and the administrative law judge, Ann E. Evanko, who is in charge of the case.

As he has in the past, Cohen made mention at least once to Evanko’s law firm, Hurwitz & Fine, and its ties to the Brown administration in questioning her rulings from the bench.

“Your honor has already said she doesn’t want this case to be about political corruption,” Cohen told Evanko. “But your honor, this case is about corruption.”

Evanko challenged Cohen’s repeated characterization of her rulings as “unfair” and suggested his criticism was not evidence.

“You had a chance,” she told him, “to ask me to recuse myself."

Cohen also battled with city lawyers Shauna L. Strom and Joel C. Moore when he tried to suggest Mascia was targeted for removal not because of his use of the N-word, but because of his past criticism of Brown and other city leaders.

“Joe Mascia ruffled feathers,” Cohen said referring to a letter criticizing a city project.

Strom objected. “It doesn’t show whose feathers were ruffled or even if feathers were ruffled,” she said of the letter and Mascia’s reputation as a watchdog.

Mascia’s term as BMHA commissioner expires in June and, regardless of what happens in his case, he has indicated a desire to run for re-election.