New York

Barrett: Role of Public Advocate Gets Endorsement in FDNY Discrimination Finding; No Wonder Bloomberg Still Wants to Kill the Job


One surprise in Mike Bloomberg’s State of the City speech this week was his failure to say anything about the long-promised charter revision commission, which is expected, among other things, to act on one of his pet peeves and “get rid of the Public Advocate,” as he put it last year to the Staten Island Advance.

Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg are very different mayors in many respects, but one target of contempt that they’ve long shared is this office. They’ve waged 16 years of war on it, trying to get voters to strip it of its limited powers in charter referendums even as they combined to reduce its budget to a puny million and a half. Bloomberg calls it “a total waste of everybody’s money,” though it operates on half of what he paid in bonuses to his campaign staff. Maybe it’s the name that makes Republicans rant, or at least those elected on its ballot line.

Oddly, the Public Advocate’s office targeted another of the rare common bonds between Rudy and Mike, their now legally rebuked joint acquiescence to the frat-boy FDNY, which U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled last week intentionally discriminated against blacks under both of their administrations. Garaufis actually cited the Advocate in his ruling, suggesting that Bloomberg might have benefited from taking the office a bit more seriously.

The judge pointed to a 2001 report done when Mark Green occupied the office, using data that Green assembled showing how New York’s paltry seven percent black and Hispanic firefighter force compared with other cities at the time (Houston 31 percent, Los Angeles 40, Chicago 29). He also quoted Green’s conclusion that the force was “the least diverse ethnically, racially and by gender of all of the uniformed services,” noting that “this disparity has only become more pronounced,” with the NYPD moving from 16.6 percent black then to 18 percent in 2009 “while the percentage of black firefighters had actually decreased”, from 3.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Bloomberg defeated Green in the 2001 mayoral race.

Garaufis said that the Advocate’s report, the 2003 report that the city’s own Equal Employment Practices Commission sent the mayor, and other findings combined to provide “convincing evidence that the City, its agencies, and relevant decisionmakers have been aware that the FDNY’s hiring procedures discriminate against black applicants and have nonetheless refused to take steps to remedy this discrimination.” Garaufis had already made it clear that he regarded the mayor personally as just such a “decisionmaker” when he ordered his deposition, citing Bloomberg’s own statements as indications of his “direct involvement in the events at issue in the case.”

When Bloomberg was deposed, Richard Levy, the lawyer representing black firefighters, asked him if he’d known anything about FDNY discrimination prior to taking office, an apparent reference in part to the 2001 report. “Before becoming mayor,” he replied, “I had little interest in what went on in city government,” a far cry from the media message of his initial campaign. Bloomberg continued this theme of contemptuous disinterest throughout the deposition, acknowledging that he hadn’t even read the judge’s earlier decision in this case, which found a “disparate impact” against blacks, and couldn’t recall ever even seeing the EEPC report or the letters he got urging him to examine this pattern of discrimination from Yvette Clarke, then the chair of the city council’s fire services committee, and a host of other black leaders, including Al Sharpton and then State senator David Paterson.

Green told the Voice that “it’s not just gratifying that a court noted our earlier work,” but it’s also “another indication of precisely why the city needs a vigorous Public Advocate reminding an imperial mayor about better ways of governing.” He said that Giuliani and Bloomberg “completely ignored our now vindicated data analysis.”

The current Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio, who defeated Green when he ran again for the post last year, said the judge’s citing of the report “emphasizes the important oversight role the Public Advocate’s office plays in City government.” De Blasio says that the Bloomberg administration “must take this letter into consideration,” together with “the many other more recent studies that have been done on this issue.”

“As Public Advocate,” vowed de Blasio, “I will continue to perform aggressive oversight over any city policies or agencies that perpetuate discrimination,” a warning to Bloomberg, who is vowing to appeal Garaufis’s decision, that another Advocate is now looking over the FDNY’s shoulder.


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