Last Thursday a well respected leader and organizer in the Latino community, Alberto Cappas, reached out to city housing commissioner Joe Mascia. Cappas is helping minority youth find jobs and had two resumes from veterans struggling to find work.
He reached out to Mascia because he is a veteran himself, and served as the project manager for the Hispanic Veterans Memorial built at Marine Drive four years ago. Mascia donated his time to serve as construction manager and did the concrete work himself to defray costs.
One resume belonged to a veteran with 15 years of experience in the military, but who struggled to find work. Mascia took the resumes and forwarded them to contacts at the city and the NFTA.
The following day, at the federal credit union, a woman waiting in line recognized Masica from the local news and introduced herself.
“What, the beard didn’t disguise me?” Mascia joked affably, in a style that resembles Joe Pesci in the 1991 movie My Cousin Vinny.
“I need help with my son,” Ms. Rodriguez, a woman in her late 50s, said in a voice that made clear the importance of the issue.
“Does Marine Drive have a veteran’s preference?” she asked. “My son is trying to get into Marine Drive and they have been giving him the run around.”
“Of course there’s a veterans’ preference,” Mascia responded. “I’ll go talk to occupancy and see what the hold up is and get back to you.”
Mascia is a recognized figure in Buffalo, following a high profile common council campaign that was met with a barrage of political smears. Today, he is getting approached more frequently than ever for help — from residents of the housing authority, small business leaders, would be government whistle blowers, and community stakeholders.
Some wonder why he is fighting for his elected office. At a stipend of only $2,000 per year, the daily phone calls and problem solving for residents hardly seems worth it.
“I’m the only one who isn’t afraid of exposing the corruption,” he says. “The authority ran out the last commissioner after she complained about violence at Scheaffer Village.”
“The staff spread rumors of her being a ‘snitch’ and some kids shot a few bullets through her window. She didn’t run for reelection.”
An important moment for the housing authority
Last Tuesday, housing authority administrators held a meeting at AD Price Courts to solicit tenant input. It was the first of many public meetings to discuss the property’s future management structure. The meetings are required to secure approval of the property transfer from federal regulators at the local field office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Brown administration has been eagerly pursuing a privatization strategy that critics say will lead to significant rent increases and displacement of the current tenants.
Modesto Candelario, the Assistant Director of BMHA, led the meeting and explained that transferring the property to Bridges Development, an entity ostensibly controlled by BMHA housing commissioners, would allow the entity to “take on a private partner to raise capital and finance the reconstruction.”
That arrangement is at the heart of Brown administration housing policy, but critics say that allowing a private investor to essentially takeover a public housing complex and start collecting higher rents will inevitably lead to gentrification and displacement.
“Is there a resident-elected Commissioner on the new board?” asked Renato Graham, the president of a tenant board.
“No, they are all Mayorally appointed Commissioners,” Modesto responded.
“Well, if you’re here telling us you want tenant input and for tenants to be involved in the process, then why not put a tenant elected commissioner on the board of Bridges?” the tenant asked.
I’m told that Willie Green, a prominent anti-violence activist, explained it best.
“Joe Mascia is our attack dog. They want us to lock up our attack dog in the bathroom so they can come in and rob our apartments,” he says. “Where will the watchdog be then?”
Public hearing on suspension to begin Friday
A public hearing to discuss suspension charges against him will take place at the Buffalo City Court, 50 Franklin Street, Part 30 at 9:30am. The hearing is expected to last five days and will be conducted by Anne E. Evanko, a politically connected lawyer with the firm Hurwitz & Fine.
Hurwitz & Fine does extensive work for the city of Buffalo.After bringing the charges against Masica, Mayor Byron Brown reached out to Evanko to conduct the hearing. Evanko has refused to disclose campaign contributions that she or her firm have made to Mayor Brown.
“I didn’t realize Mayor Brown was judge, jury, and executioner all at the same time,” said Terrence Robinson, a respected preservationist in the Black community who has worked with Mascia.
As a part of the politically motivated smear campaign, an associate of Joel Giambra secretly recorded Mascia while prodding him to use a slur. That recording was held for seven months before being released only days after Mascia filed his nominating petitions.
The Giambra associate who created the recording is Paul Christopher, a well known drug dealer and bookie with a history of domestic abuse. Christopher will be a key witness.
Mascia has not gone away
Anyone who engages with Mascia walks away impressed with his curiously positive attitude and invariably affable posture, despite the barrage of negative media that would cause lesser men to hide.
Mascia feels obligated to use his high-profile mistake for the public good, and wants to contribute to the local social justice movement however he can.
“If there’s anything that I can do to draw attention to the inequities in this city, I want to help,” Mascia explains. “I’ve been an advocate for the last ten years as housing commissioner and I want to continue to advocate and draw attention to issues.”
Mascia was recently appointed to the Board of Buffalo City Hoops, the youth program founded by Murray Holman and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. The program was launched earlier this year after the Gus Macker tournament was relocated to Grand Island and repositioned as a suburban tournament.
The housing commissioner continues to work with the Stop the Violence Coalition, which promotes the cause of anti-violence among minority youth.
“It’s really disheartening how frequently I’m at prayer vigils,” a somber Mascia concedes. “The violence happening right now is horrific, and city hall hasn’t done a damn thing about it.”
Mascia is a member of the Community Contract Compliance Review Board, led by Grant and Charlie Fisher, president of BUILD and one of the community’s most prominent leaders. Mascia serves on the audit committee that is investigating minority hiring practices and compliance on government contracts.
“We need to force the unions to develop fairer practices, so that minority laborers are getting called for jobs,” he says.
Lobbying the State Legislature
Mascia’s agenda in Albany this year is focused on two policy priorities. He wants the introduction and passage of a law that ensures that veteran renters have a right to live with their service dogs, and he wants to launch a housing rehabilitation and youth job training program on the Eastside.
“Let’s get some of these vacant houses fixed up and teach some kids the construction trades while we’re doing it,” he says. “I have 50 years of construction experience.”
“From the looks of things, there’s still more work to do,” he quips.
The housing commissioner has been in talks with Senator Tim Kennedy, who has agreed to sponsor Mascia’s bill regarding veteran tenants being ensured the right to live with his or her service dog.
A public hearing will be held to reverse the suspension charges against the commissioner at 50 Court Street, 9:30 am, Part 30, on Friday, December 18th. Supporters are being asked to attend.