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
    Washington 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 county controller had just won against the three
    commissioners' personal funds, for not properly bidding a new county office 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. No bid rigging.

    Truth be told, Frank was cheap. Really cheap. His obituary writers say it more elegantly today, of course, as did I as well, in
    the story I wrote that day. 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 assets.

    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 the institution to
    reside in group homes. Frank knew that, and development of Southpoint 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 mid-1990s.

    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

    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 their
    different political party hats at the table and worked so productively as a team. We felt Frank's disappointment when he had
    the integrity to expose his friend and fellow Democrat official at his county commission table for misuse of public funds.

    I was especially proud when he read my Rants&Raves column and thanked me for the critical commentary of his former aide,
    a county commissioner himself by then, 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 done.

    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.