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Former foe flips, says Mascia should be able to seek re-election to BMHA board

A tenant leader who previously called on Joseph A. Mascia to step down from his Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority post is now criticizing the BMHA’s attempt to bar Mascia from running for re-election in June.

The tenants – not the BMHA board of commissioners – should determine if Mascia should represent them, said Sam Smith, chairman of the BMHA’s Resident Council, which represents tenants in the bulk of the BMHA developments.

Mascia, Smith said, should be allowed to run for re-election to the BMHA board if he wants to.

“He should be able to run, and let the tenants decide if he would be elected,” Smith said.

In addition, one of the commissioners who voted for the measure aimed at barring Mascia from running for a new term said she didn’t fully understand what was voted on, and she believes Mascia should be allowed to run for re-election.

“The day we met, I had a lot on my plate at the moment,” said commissioner Yvonne Martinez, one of two tenant-elected commissioners – along with Mascia – on the seven-member board.

The other five members are appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“They put it up on the board, but we weren’t given copies,” Martinez said of the measure that was voted upon at the end of December.

“When they read off the board, it’s not the same as when it’s in front of you. I didn’t have time to analyze it.”

The measure – unanimously approved by BMHA members attending the meeting – would amend the agency bylaws to ban tenant-elected commissioners removed from office from running for a future term. The BMHA is authorized by New York State Housing Law, so the change in the bylaws must still be approved by the state.

After a tape recording of Mascia using racist language was publicly released last July, Mascia was suspended from the board and brought up on charges by Brown, who is moving to have Mascia removed from the board.

A public hearing on the charges concluded at the end of December, and a hearing officer is expected to make a recommendation by early March on whether Mascia should be allowed to retain his current commissioner seat. But even before that decision is announced, Mascia has publicly said he plans to run for a new two-year term in June, when his current term expires.

In addition to criticizing the BMHA for attempting to ban Mascia from running, Smith predicted that if Mascia runs for re-election, he will win.

“I think what he said was offensive, and at the time he should have resigned,” Smith said.

But, as time has passed, and residents have had time to assess Mascia’s full tenure as a BMHA commissioner and tenant representative, many feel he has earned the right to run, and serve, another term, according to Smith.

“They would look at his body of work, and see how he has helped residents, and I would think they want someone like Joe to fight for them,” Smith said.

Martinez agreed.

“Joe is the person that should be running. He is the person that should be sitting here,” Martinez said.

“He is always available for the community, for the residents.”

Mascia was caught on a secretly recorded tape using the N-word to refer to African-American leaders in Buffalo, including Brown, Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett.

Mascia has repeatedly apologized for his comments.

Martinez and Smith said they never heard Mascia using such language prior to their hearing the tapes.

Smith added that if Mascia would have resigned in July when the resident council asked him to, he could have avoided many of the recent actions – the suspension, hearing and by-laws amendment vote – and instead used the time to meet with residents to explain his position, and then seek a new term in June.

While Mascia didn’t do that, Smith continued, Mascia has, nonetheless, continued to help residents who have kept calling him despite his suspension for help with problems in their apartments or their buildings.

Mascia, 70, a frequent critic of the BMHA leadership, has been an authority commissioner since 2006.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com