Our Mascara Runs No More...
The very first incoming call that I took as a writer for the conservative Brownsville daily paper in
the 1980s was from Washinton County Commission Chairman Frank Mascara. The 7:35 AM call to
welcome me to his courthouse beat interrupted my young editor's rant to me not to expect to
hear from any Washington County official, except the controller, until after our paper went to
press, around 11 AM.
But there Frank was on my phone, on a call that quickly turned into a personal chat. He knew my
paternal uncle and my dad. Frank was a few years younger than my dad and uncle, but being
orphaned young himself, he related to the three brothers Cafini, whose dad gave them away in the
1930s to their maternal aunt to raise after their young mother died.
At the time, my young editor, a tremendously gifted writer from New York, was losing patience
overhearing my end of our personal chat. He pranced, sighed and finally scribbled a note to
transfer the call to him. Since I was quite uncertain during the first 35 minutes of my first day at
work before the call whether I actually wanted to finish the day, I shook my head to indicate that
I would give him the call in a minute. But first, I asked about the $200,000 surcharge lawsuit
that the controller had just won against the three commissioners' personal funds, for not properly
bidding a new telephone system.
Frank pulled no punches. Neither did I. My young editor no longer wanted the call. There really had
been nothing underhanded about the deal. Frank was cheap. His obituary writers say it more
elegantly today, of course, as did I as well, in the story I wrote that day... but he bought while the
price was good. The pricier estimates he acquired prior to purchase, he felt, would stand up in
court. Though imposed, however, the surcharge was never enforced against the trio's personal
That was the first of a few key stories that we across the county line broke with full comments.
My calls from Frank usually always came early in the morning from there on out. He beamed with
absolute pride when he unveiled drawings for development of county land surrounding Western
State Center. "Southpoint," as it would become to be known, would put the county back on the map.
He noted that I was the only one in a large group not smiling back at him. He was crazy, I thought,
but not for the same Doubting Thomas reasons that others labeled the plan, "Frank's Follies." The
parents of some of those severely handicapped residents of Western Center would make his
lawsuit-happy controller seem like Glenda The Good Witch. Privately, I told him that some of them
would chain themselves to the doors to keep their children from leaving. Frank knew that, and
development continued around Western Center for the rest of his stay in county government and
afterwards, when he went on win election and a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the
Our paths crossed again a few years later, when I ran to his local office for help and the return of
a favor that he promised for having arranged a meeting with him and a few of the Western Center
parents. I never thought that I would need his help, but did go running to ask him to intervene with
two of this county's commissioners. Could he, would he, try to stop a county take-over of the
private non-profit agency where I worked, which served the Western Center adults and others
handicapped and mentally ill. Certainly, but not just because I asked. He knew the vultures wanted
our $40M annual funding stream to pad their administrative salaries, and was as certain as I was
that a county take-over of federal and state independent monitoring could have broken his promise
to those parents a decade earlier for adequate monitoring of their adult children in group homes
outside Western Center and the county agencies where they would live. We both knew from
televised news clips that a group of parents was still blocking the institution's door to keep their
adult children at Western.
Each spring for the next few years, Frank watched the county takeover attempt stories and made
sure we knew he was still available to encourage this county's two commissioners, sitting on the
fence where we were concerned, to leave us alone and free-standing. As some of us overcame our
shyness to become frequent speakers at public meetings, lobbying to keep us open as a non-profit,
Frank was a sort of bubbly, smiling cheerleader in the shadows. When it was finally over and our
non-profit board threw in the towel in 1998, he noted the success at keeping the vultures at bay
for three years and making it clear, in a very public way, that we still had to be independent
monitors of federal and state programs and advocates to be effective.
His obituary writers sent Frank off to Heaven today citing the development of Southpoint as his
greatest accomplishment and historical legacy. Yes, that is some masterpiece! I was in sheer awe
of the fact, too, that he and Ed Paluso never wore party hats at the table and worked so
productively as a team. I was especially proud when he read my Rants&Raves column and thanked
me for the critical commentary of his former aide -- by then a county commissioner himself -- for
not learning from Frank's prime examples -- to be professional, respectful and "the better
politician he is capable of being" -- by removing the damn party hat at the table, to get the job
But that he genuinely cared enough, still in 2000, to ask how the parents blocking the door really
were and what he could do to help, when they were finally peeled for good from the door at
Western Center, when it finally closed for good, is what I liked the most about Frank.