Merit Matters, an organization than opposes race-based hiring in the FDNY, is firing back against the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters, and its attorney for consistently intimating that the group is trying to keep the department free of minorities.
The battle is centered on a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis stating that the department’s entrance exams given in 1999, 2002 and 2007 were biased because of the small number of minorities who passed.
The latest war of words followed the first day of a fairness hearing held on Oct. 1. It was designed to allow those who oppose the outcome of the bias lawsuit, launched by the Vulcans and U.S. Justice Department, to air their grievances. Some 300 members of Merit Matters showed up to demonstrate their disapproval, according to the group’s founder, Deputy Chief Paul Mannix.
The Vulcans also held a press conference, at which their lawyer, Darius Charney, with the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the protesters, though not mentioning Merit Matters by name, “disgruntled white firefighters,” and asking them to “step aside,” something that infuriated Mannix.
“We are not stirring up hostility; if anything, we are providing an appropriate outlet for the resentment held by firefighters of all races and both genders to the “disgraceful and humiliating” (in the words of an Hispanic Battalion Chief) arguments made by the Vulcan Society,” Mannix said in a written rebuttal.
According to Mannix, there were very few speakers voicing their support for the Vulcan Society, with those who did speak at the hearing complaining that although they passed the test, they didn’t get a job.
“Relevant details, unfortunately, were left out,” Mannix said. “What was your score and list number? Did you follow up and keep all appointments, or fail another part of the process?”
Mannix, who is not a spokesman for the FDNY, recalled one speaker in particular who claimed that after he took the exam he was offered a position as an EMT.
“While I think this claim is specious,” Mannix said, “I gave this gentleman my phone number and said if he was treated unfairly Merit Matters will advocate for him.”
Paul Washington, immediate past president and a spokesman for the Vulcan Society, could not immediately be reached for comment. He holds that Garaufis’ decision and the creation of a new exam will ensure that the Fire Department is as diverse as the city it represents.
Mannix has long maintained that Garaufis should recuse himself because he appeared to demonstrate empathy for the Vulcans. A recent article in the New York Times, Mannix said, confirmed his suspicions.
Garaufis vigorously opposed the integration of his area school district in the 1970s and was labeled racist by black parents, according to the report. It also said that he once asked an African-American judge, “How does it feel to be a black person in society?”
“That is a very telling part of his life,” Mannix said. “Is he trying to exhibit empathy? A judge is not supposed to be empathetic, he is supposed to make decisions based on cold, hard facts.”
Mannix also noted that Garaufis’ nephew had taken the FDNY exam and was seeking a position in the department, another reason why, he said, the judge should step aside.
He cited a Supreme Court ruling, which states that “any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
It requires recusal when, “He or his spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person … is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”