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Queens Chronicle

Battle over diversity in the FDNY gets heated

Judge to monitor hiring for 10 years; two sides trade barbs over decision

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Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:10 pm, Thu Oct 20, 2011.

The federal judge who ruled that two FDNY entrance exams were biased against minorities and criticized the lack of diversity in the department last week imposed further restrictions on how new recruits can be hired for at least the next decade.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis has decided that a court-appointed auditor will examine the recruitment, testing and hiring of entry-level firefighters for at least 10 years.

That individual will also monitor changes Garaufis will impose on the post-exam screening process, which are designed to both eliminate any sort of favoritism or nepotism and make sure that the FDNY is following federal law. Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s attorneys were not pleased with the decision.

“Westronglydisagree with the judge’sopinionand conclusions, and arereviewing thedraft remedial order,” Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said in an email statement. “We will respond on Oct. 17, as directed by the court, and will appeal as soon as the law allows.”

On Oct. 19, everyone who is a party to the lawsuit will submit the names and resumes of individuals they think would be the best choice for the monitor position, and then the judge will select an applicant from that pool. After that process is completed, Garaufis will issue a final order, which will lay out the specific duties of the monitor. There will be a comment period to hear the opinions of the parties involved in the case and a fairness hearing wherein the public can offer its input. A salary for the position has not yet been determined.

Paul Washington, former president of the Vulcan Society, the group of black firefighters who along with the Justice Department launched the lawsuit that resulted in findings of discrimination, hailed Garaufis’ latest decision.

“We’re very happy about it,” Washington, said. “It’s a logical solution to the evidence that was presented. The Fire Department has a 150-year history that has never been close to diverse. We are happy to see that with this move diversity and the hiring of black firefighters is about to begin.”

FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix disagrees. Mannix, speaking for Merit Matters, a group that opposes race-based hiring and not the FDNY, said the department has spent $20 million on minority recruitment efforts that date back to 1980 and that it has done everything possible to integrate the force and has no reason to apologize.

“I think Judge Garaufis has chosen to ignore the evidence that does not agree with his worldview,” Mannix said.

Leroy Gadsden, the president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, agreed with Washington, adding, “firefighting is the most segregated profession in the most diverse city in the world.”

He stated that the lack of minorities within the FDNY can be attributed to skewed entrance exams and the history and traditions of the department, which excludes blacks.

In order to increase minority interest, the department recently beefed up its recruitment efforts, sending officials to places like Harlem and southeast Queens to help applicants sign up for the next entrance exam, which with be given in January and February.

Some 14,122 blacks have applied, according to the department, compared to 5,628 in 2007, and 14,110 Hispanics, compared to 5,590 for that same year. More than three times as many women applied this year as did in 2007 — 4,261 compared to 1,401, according to the FDNY. But not everyone is impressed by the increased numbers.

“It’s an example of the Fire Department patting itself on the back for any little thing that they can find and people seem to fall for it,” Washington said. “The number of blacks recruited has increased tremendously, but so has the number of whites and everyone else.”

The department is 89 percent Caucasian, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the FDNY. Some 31,014, or 51 percent of the 61,439 people who registered to take the next exam are Caucasian.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), whose brother is a firefighter, called the new recruitment numbers “utterly meaningless,” because the important thing is how many will pass the exam.

Halloran said Thursday that he thinks the judge’s decision to appoint an auditor is “illogical” and “premature” at best, especially since the city just recruited nearly three times the minority applicants it has in the past and just created a new test from scratch under the supervision of former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, the special master Garaufis himself appointed.

“He’s searching for a problem for which he wants to create a solution,” Halloran said. “It’s bad jurisprudence.”

Similarly, Mannix fears that there will be added pressure to keep the minority numbers high and, if the exam results don’t yield results that suit Garaufis, he will simply toss the test as he has done before, and the process will begin all over again.

And since the FDNY is barred from hiring new recruits, it puts strain on current firefighters, Mannix said, forcing them to work longer hours, which might lead to resentment when new workers are finally able to join the ranks.

“We don’t care if the department is all black or all Asian or all women or all white. We just want them to be qualified,” Mannix said. “We are not racist, but we are against diversity for diversity’s sake.”

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) had FDNY recruiters stationed at his district office every Monday and Tuesday for the last two months and over 75 southeast Queens residents signed up, according to the lawmaker.

In another effort to diversify the ranks, Comrie introduced a bill that would give five additional exam points to applicants with a New York City high school diploma or GED, replacing the old residency credit. The measure was unanimously approved by the City Council in May, according to the lawmaker.

Comrie said the appointment of a monitor “is a good thing,” because FDNY recruiting and testing has been so arbitrary and selective.

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