New York

Council Members to Mayor Bloomberg: Obey the Judge! Stop Fire Department’s Racial Discrimination!


By Simon McCormack

A group of 17 City Council members, mostly minority, tried the en masse approach Wednesday to try to get Mayor Mike Bloomberg to follow a federal judge’s decision ordering the city to end discrimination in the Fire Department. They called a City Hall press conference to make their announcement. All council members were invited, but only two attendees were white.

The group urged Bloomberg to heed the decision handed down by Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis in mid-January. In a suit brought the U.S. Justice Department after complaints by the Vulcan Society of black firefighters, Garaufis ruled that the FDNY intentionally discriminated against blacks by using an exam that put them at a disadvantage, the Times reported at the time. (Click above video for the winning lawyers’ reaction.)

In his ruling, Garaufis cited years of discriminatory hiring practices by the city that, as the Voice‘s Wayne Barrett points out, stretch back to Rudy Giuliani’s administration. Nevertheless, Bloomberg has said he plans to appeal.

“It’s ridiculous that the mayor is continuing to spend city tax dollars appealing a ruling that is so clear,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie of southeast Queens. “We are asking the mayor to stop this fight.”

Councilmember Larry Seabrook said the judge’s decision has nothing to do with the “Q word.” “People are saying the judge is trying to enforce a quota,” Seabrook said. “The judge is trying to do away with a quota, because zero is a quota.”

Currently, about seven percent of the fire department is made up of blacks and Hispanics; in the city itself, an estimated 65 percent are people of color. The mayor was elected to a third term despite receiving only 23 percent of black votes and 43 percent of Hispanics’.

The dailies turned a blind eye to the press conference — zero stories about it at last check — the lack of publicity suggesting that Bloomberg won’t feel much heat if he continues to fight the decision.

Comrie said he plans to reintroduce a bill that would give any FDNY candidate with a high school diploma from a city high school an eight-point credit on the open competitive firefighter exam. The bill is designed to increase the number of minorities joining FDNY ranks.

Comrie is one of the most powerful members on the Council. He chairs the land use committee, second in importance only to finance. And he said he had received support for his bill from a broad swath of Council members, including three Queens Republicans, Dan Halloran, Peter Koo, and Eric Ulrich.

“This issue is universal,” Comrie said. “It’s not something that should be a problem for any member of the council to embrace.”

It’s still unclear whether the bill or Comrie’s supporters can grab Bloomberg’s attention. Even if Speaker Christine Quinn (who wasn’t at the press conference) and much of the Council get behind Comrie, they may have a tough time getting past a Bloomberg veto unless they play hardball. Comrie and his comrades could threaten to put FDNY funding on the back burner. Firehouse closures are a distinct possibility anyway because of budget woes.

But Comrie spokesperson Rance Huff said FDNY discrimination and the department’s funding are two separate issues, adding, “We wouldn’t tie one to the other. Councilmember Comrie wants diversity and he wants firehouses to stay open.”

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