The June 10 election for two tenant commissioner positions on the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority board has been put off until a judge rules on candidate Joseph A. Mascia’s bid to get back on the ballot.
His name was removed last month in a legal dispute over whether he is still a tenant commissioner following his April guilty plea to a misdemeanor in City Court.
The Erie County Board of Elections indicated Tuesday that the election date will be determined after State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Troutman rules on Mascia’s contention that he should be on the ballot.
Troutman will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Erie County Courthouse on the legal action filed last week by Mascia’s attorney, Joseph G. Makowski, against the BMHA and the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, which is running the election and removed him from the ballot.
In the meantime, a temporary restraining order prevents the league from holding the election without Mascia on the ballot, pending Troutman’s decision in the case.
The league, in a May 23 letter to Mascia, said it took his name off the ballot because he claimed in an April 11 candidate’s interview with the league that he was a BMHA tenant commissioner when he was not.
It said his position on the BMHA board automatically became vacant earlier that day when he pleaded guilty to an election law misdemeanor for failing to file campaign financial disclosure statements in connection with his unsuccessful 2012 run for an Assembly seat.
It said his willful false statements identifying himself as a tenant commissioner were in violation of the league’s core values of honesty, transparency and ethical conduct.
Makowski said Mascia was correct when he told the league that he was a tenant commissioner. He said BMHA general counsel David Rodriguez did not inform the BMHA board about his contention that the position was vacant until he sent the board a letter to that effect dated April 15.
Rodriguez, in his letter, had indicated that the election law misdemeanor was a violation of Mascia’s oath of office under the state Public Officers Law, automatically vacating his tenant commissioner position.
Makowski contends that Mascia is still on the board because his failure to file campaign financial-disclosure statements is not a crime of moral turpitude and therefore is not a violation of his oath office.
He also says Rodriguez’s legal opinion that the position is vacant is not binding on the board. He says that only the board can decide if the position is vacant.
But even if the position is vacant, Makowski maintains that nothing in the BMHA bylaws prohibits Mascia from running for tenant commissioner, saying the bylaws contain no provision that a misdemeanor conviction bars someone from running.
He also contends that the vacancy is only for the current term of office, which expires June 30, not for future terms.
“He has a right to be on the ballot and serve again if he is elected,” the attorney said.
In another development, Mascia said he filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s Office for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging that BMHA officials are violating federal regulations by interfering in the tenant commissioner election process.
He said he received a May 29 letter from Edgar Moore, regional inspector general for audit, saying the office reviewed the complaint and referred it to Lisa M. Pugliese, director of HUD’s Buffalo office. Mascia said he will meet with Pugliese to discuss his allegations.
Mascia, an eight-year veteran who is seeking his fifth two-year term, contends that Rodriguez’s declaration that his tenant commissioner position is vacant is a political move designed to get him off the board because of his criticism of the administration.
Dawn Sanders-Garrett, the authority’s executive director, denies that politics was involved in the declaration. “It was a result of his personal actions,” she said of Mascia. “We received a letter from the general counsel informing us the seat was vacant” because of the guilty plea.