A judge on Monday ordered the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority to put longtime tenant commissioner Joseph Mascia back on the ballot for the upcoming election.
State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Troutman ruled that Mascia’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor in April in City Court for failing to file campaign financial disclosure statements in his 2012 unsuccessful run for the State Assembly did not automatically bar him from seeking re-election to his fifth two-year term on the BMHA board.
Mascia, who took legal action against the BMHA and the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara after they removed him from the ballot last month, welcomed the ruling.
“This is not just a victory for me,” he said. “This is a victory for the tenants as well. They have a democratic right to choose who they want to represent them, even though the BMHA thinks this is a banana republic and they can be dictatorial in their decisions.”
He said he is looking forward to campaigning for one of the two tenant commissioner positions up for election. He said he expected the election to be held in 30 days at the earliest.
But Laurence K. Rubin, who represented the BMHA and League of Women Voters in the case, said his clients are looking to hold the election before that.
The election originally had been scheduled for June 10 but was put off after Mascia’s attorney, Joseph G. Makowski, obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the league, which the BMHA had hired to hold the election, from conducting the vote 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 the 2012 campaign financial disclosure statements.
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 maintains that Mascia is still a tenant commissioner.
Makowski disputes the contention of the league, the BMHA and the authority’s general counsel, David Rodriguez, 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. He said Mascia’s failure to file campaign financial disclosure statements is not a crime of moral turpitude and therefore not a violation of his oath of office.
The judge ruled Monday that Mascia was a public officer but that his misdemeanor plea was not an automatic bar to him serving on the board and running for re-election, according to Makowski.
Rubin said the judge found that Mascia’s guilty plea did not involve a crime of moral turpitude.
Mascia, an eight-year veteran of the board whose current term expires June 30, contends that Rodriguez’s declaration that his tenant commissioner position was vacant was 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, denied last month 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.