> by Frank Parlato
Joe Mascia, 71, the disputably suspended tenant-elected Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) Commissioner, is running for reelection.
He has filed more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot for the June 14, 2016 election held by tenants of BMHA. Mascia filed petitions with 200 signatures from tenants from seven different housing complexes at the troubled public housing authority – chastised by HUD last year as being mismanaged, wasteful, substandard and in danger of being placed in receivership.
Twenty-five signatures are required to qualify for a spot on the ballot where two commissioners who reside in a BMHA unit are elected to represent the estimated 12,000 residents who live in approximately 3,600 rented units.
According to its by-laws, the mayor of Buffalo appoints five commissioners and two are elected, giving the mayor control of public housing in this city along with its annual $40 million budget – a whopping $10,000 plus per year per unit..
Last year Mayor Byron Brown’s “suspension” of Mascia became contested as Mascia argued that, since he is not appointed by the mayor but elected by tenants, the mayor has no authority to unilaterally disenfranchise tenant voters at BMHA.
The effort by Mayor Brown to suspend Mascia was fueled by an audio recording of Mascia. As many readers know, Mascia was secretly recorded by his longtime friend, Paul Christopher, on March 9, 2015, and during 15 seconds of a 13-minute recording, Christopher asked Mascia about Mayor Brown and a number of key figures at the BMHA and Mascia refers to them each in turn with what is politely referred to as the ‘N’ word.
In July, some four months later, the stealth recording was turned over to the Buffalo News. During the next two weeks Mascia was one of, if not the single biggest news story locally.
There have been, to date, no allegations of malfeasance or misconduct in Mascia’s performance of his duties as a commissioner.
While apologizing for his remarks on the recording, Mascia says the reason for the secret recording and its disclosure was to discredit him because he raised issues of malfeasance at BMHA.
Mayor Brown appointed attorney Ann Evanko of the law firm of Hurwitz and Fine to conduct hearings last December to determine whether to recommend to the mayor whether Masica should/could be removed based on the racial epithets Mascia said when he was secretly recorded.
Mascia was represented by local civil rights attorney Steven Cohen of the law firm HoganWillig.
A decision on his suspension is expected in late May, just two weeks before the election.
Mascia has been elected five times to two year terms, the position comes with a $2,000 annual stipend.
Among issues Mascia raised in recent years at the BMHA is how the approval process of an asbestos abatement and demolition project at the Kensington Heights complex inflated from $5 million to $11.5 million. Mascia claims the job could have been done for $1 million.
Mascia also filed an Article 78 lawsuit on February 27, 2015, challenging the legality of Mayor Brown’s appointment of his five allotted appointments to the BMHA Board of Commissioners. Mascia contended the appointments were illegal because the Mayor appointed each to concurrent five year terms rather than staggering appointments as required by the authority’s bylaws and New York State Public Housing Law [section 30].
In a widely read series in the blog, The Buffalo Chronicle, Mascia claimed a series of politically interconnected individuals conspired to take advantage of taxpayers and tenants at BMHA while retaliating against him.
Mascia named businessman James Jerge [his company was awarded the Kensington Heights contract, Mascia claims, without an RFP]; attorney Adam Perry [Mascia said Perry’s law firm, Hodgson Russ, was paid over $1 million for legal work for BMHA] Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes [Mascia claims she placed family members at top paying, little to do positions at BMHA] then-District Attorney Frank Sedita (Mascia claimed a prosecution was launched against him for election law violations that were without precedent and politically motivated); and County Clerk Chris Jacobs [Mascia said Jacobs asked him to resign from his part time day job at the DMV as retribution for whistle blowing at BMHA and for the good of the DMV].
Mascia also has been an outspoken critic against the privatization of the housing authority.
Mascia alleges Norstar Development, a consistent campaign contributor to Mayor Brown, were the beneficiaries of privatization. Norstar, or its executives, appear on almost every campaign finance disclosure that Mayor Brown has filed, Mascia said.
Norstar is currently demolishing and reconstructing the Shoreline Apartments on Niagara Street, and the AD Price Courts property on Jefferson Avenue and will take ownership of the land, Mascia said. Norstar plans to build taxpayer funded units on the site at a cost per unit expected to exceed the cost of a mansion in Buffalo at a per [subsidized] unit of about $400,000.
While Mayor Brown has “suspended” Mascia from the official performance of his duties, Mascia has refused to recognize his suspension and continues to attend meetings, publicly criticize the management and make himself available for tenants who seek his advice and services, which included successfully defending resident eviction in housing court.
Meantime Mascia is running again – for his sixth term.
Oddly, when he turned in his petitions on April 1, and sought the required time and date stamp to acknowledge his filing, at BMHA offices, somehow, an official dated his petition March 32.
Noticing this, Mascia demanded a corrected date of April 1 be stamped, which was done.