Earlier this year the regional manager of Sheen and Shine — a local minority and veteran owned business that that does work for New York State Gas and Electric (NYSEG) — traveled to Albany to lobby the State Senate for government contracts.
Paul Christopher, a management executive with the cleaning services firm, wanted to bring his friend and employee along for the ride. That employee was Joe Mascia.
Mascia has been at the forefront of the city’s progressive activism for years — on issues as ranged as improving public housing, fighting for environmental justice at the Peace Bridge, and calling for urban highway removal.
He didn’t know why his boss wanted him to tag along, but figured that he hoped to leverage Mascia’s relationships in the political community — earned over five terms as the city’s elected housing commissioner. Mascia, age 70, knew Christopher for nearly 40 years. So Mascia figured there was nothing wrong with introducing Christopher to a few people to help the troubled middle-aged man begin to build professional contacts.
Mascia had watched Christopher — who has a considerable arrest record in Buffalo and Tonawanda — lead a troubled and confused life, rife with drug use and domestic violence, all the while working illegally as a bookie. He has been largely estranged from his family for the past ten years, Mascia notes sadly.
Christopher grew up as a street kid from the Westside: crass, poorly educated, and brute.
Mascia felt obligated to help Christopher, who he thought of like a son who was in need of guidance and mentorship. They shared many conversations about life, work, politics, and people. Mascia was sometimes too colloquial with his language, in an effort to bond with Christopher, who is nearly 30 years younger.
Mascia never thought that Christopher would prod him into using a racial epithet.
While driving on the New York State Thruway, Christopher began using street language in discussing many elected officials, referring to the Mayor and others as the “N-word.” Then, he began prodding Mascia into using the word as he secretly recorded the conversation with his smartphone, whereas to pressure him into using a word that he otherwise never would have spoken.
Rumor has it that — with the help of Joel Giambra, the political operative and former county executive — Christopher was able to shop the recording around and found a willing buyer. The sum of money exchanged for the recording has been rumored to be as high as $50,000, but those rumors can not yet be confirmed.
Giambra is a childhood friend of Mike Seaman, the Chairman of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and a senior figure in the Brown administration. Mascia has been a frequent critic of the housing authority and the Brown administration’s mismanagement of it.
Seaman and the other Mayoral appointees and senior staff of the authority have conspired for years to push Mascia out of office. BMHA and Mascia have been in court five times. On each occasion, the courts have ruled in Mascia’s favor.
In political circles, it’s widely speculated that Norstar, the property manager that has been seeking the privatization of BMHA, was involved in the transaction — perhaps through a third party.
Mascia is currently awaiting a long-delayed decision from State Supreme Court Justice John O’Donnell, which he heard in February but has since refused to rule on. The court case challenges the legality of the five mayoral appointments to BMHA’s Board of Commissioners. The Mayor had attempted to reappoint all five commissioners at the same time for five years. That was illegal because the commissioners, by their charter, are required to be appointed for five year terms — but on a staggered basis. The move marked a boldfaced power grab by the Brown administration.
It is thought that O’Donnell is dragging his feet on issuing a ruling because his son, Jack, is a lobbyist with close ties to Mayor Brown; and his wife, Denise, is awaiting appointment to the federal bench. The decision could undo every resolution that the BMHA commissioners have voted on since last December.
I’m told that the FBI has been asked to investigate the situation.