by Johanna Barr and Tom Feeney Jr.
In this week’s Voice cover story, Wayne Barrett reports on the Bloomberg administration’s “failure of leadership, accountability, and transparency” in its handling of the Deutsche Bank fire in 2007. Those involved reached out to the Voice in reaction to the piece, reinforcing Barrett’s point that the administrative mishandling of the fire amounts to Mayor Bloomberg’s worst scandal.
Joseph Graffagnino Sr., father of Joseph Graffagnino Jr., one of the two firefighters who died in the blaze, voiced his outrage at those responsible for his son’s tragic death.
“Two firefighters were murdered fighting a fire that they had no chance to beat,” Graffagnino said. “They were murdered — not by a fire that should have never happened if only one person, out of the hundreds that were responsible for ensuring safety, had been doing their job, but by the City and State officials who were too greedy and self-centered to do their jobs the way they should have been done.”
Graffagnino suspects that “political pressure is being applied to prevent the newspapers, radio and TV stations from reporting in a truthful and unbiased fashion.”
Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jack McDonnell echoed Graffagnino’s concern.
“The local newspapers chose to believe the Mayor and the Fire Commissioner that the fault for these deaths began and ended with three of the finest field officers in the Fire Department. No questions asked, no questions answered—until the Village Voice tore the cover off the cover-up. Perhaps now some reporters will ask the questions and ultimately receive the correct answers,” McDonnell said.
John Bosco, the lawyer for Pete Bosco, one of the seven FDNY chiefs who were disciplined during the investigation, ripped Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta for using the FDNY regulation known as the 15 day rule to deflect blame for the fire.
Barrett reported that while “FDNY regulations require inspections of construction or demolition sites every 15 days, the department never inspected the bank building in the six months of work that preceded the fire.”
Bosco told the Voice that “the 15 day inspection procedure was a dormant FDNY procedure. It slept undisturbed between the pages of FDNY’s books for many years and Scoppetta and his minions never ‘woke it up.’ The most galling thing is that if the 15 day rule had been put into practice, each of the seven reprimanded fire officers would have followed the procedure. So to save his own skin at the expense of the skin of those he commanded, Scoppetta used this dormant procedure as a red herring to distract everyone from the trail of evidence that led up to the top of the FDNY hierarchy and higher.”
Bloomberg, meanwhile, “stood by and let this injustice happen,” Bosco said.
Steve Cassidy, the Uniformed Firefighters Association President who has never been shy in calling out Scoppetta for his incompetence, said “there was no 15 day rule for a building undergoing abatement and deconstruction. There was no plan to fight a fire in that building, and to inspect it. The leaders of the department failed all New York City Firefighters.”
Cassidy blasted Scoppetta and the rest of the FDNY brass for shrugging off a simple proposal from the UFA, one that would provide firefighters with five-minute updates regarding the status of water attack on the scene of a fire. Had the protocol been implemented at the time of the Deutsche Bank fire, Cassidy and the UFA believe it would have saved the lives of Graffagnino and Beddia.
“Either the department doesn’t care about our proposal, or they will never accept a proposal from Steve Cassidy,” he said.
Comptroller Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign office told the Voice that Thompson’s title constrained him from commenting on the story. Multiple lawsuits are still pending in conjunction with the Deutsche Bank investigation, and the Comptroller and the Corporation Counsel must rule jointly on the settlement of any claim against the city.
Councilman Tony Avella, Bloomberg’s other Democratic opponent for Mayor, is a member of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services committee with a long history of butting heads with Scoppetta. When reached for comment, Avella, who has in the past called for Scoppetta’s resignation, left nothing on the table.
“The story demonstrates three things: one, the danger of Mike Bloomberg’s relentless pursuit of office-space construction even at the cost of public safety; two, the Bloomberg Administration’s bunkered-down approach to disaster within their ranks, which I know well from the Department of Education; and three, the spineless refusal by the press to lay a major debacle at the feet of the Mayor despite numerous paper trails that show he’s protecting negligent officials, Doctoroff in particular,” he said.
Avella condemned Bloomberg’s support of the hiring of former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff as president of Bloomberg LP. “Doctoroff was the real estate industry’s point-man in the Bloomberg Administration, on this as well as many other projects. His appointment as president of Bloomberg LP is a disgrace and gives lie to all of Bloomberg’s talk about accountability. This is looking more and more like New York City’s version of the ‘good old boys’ club.”
When asked about Bloomberg’s promotion of Department of Buildings First Deputy Robert LiMandri after the fire, Avella said that former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster “did not run this agency alone, LiMandri was there for all of the mistakes and mismanagement and corruption. He should never have been promoted to Commissioner. It’s an embarrassment to the City and an insult to the Fire Department. If anything he should be fired along with a lot of other people at the agency to clean house.”
Avella said Scoppetta should have “absolutely” been asked to resign long ago. “His failure to ensure compliance with the 15-day rule and to guarantee that the best safety experts were used at this sensitive site comprise massive failure to do his job effectively.”
“Harry Truman said that ‘the buck stops here,'” Graffagnino said. “When you’re in charge you have the authority, and with it comes the responsibility. If you want the accolades then you have to be able to take the blame for your screw ups as well.”
Mayor Bloomberg, take note.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2009