Remember back when Commissioner Sal Cassano was in charge of the Fire Department? And he answered to Mayor Bloomberg? Sure, Cassano still runs most department operations, but when it comes to hiring new firefighters — a rather important responsibility — there’s a new sheriff in town.
That sheriff is U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who’s appointed himself head of FDNY employment, and has deputized former federal prosecutor Mark Cohen to carry out his policies — mostly over the objections of the city.
The issue is the department’s lack of racial diversity, which the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters, contend is the result of discrimination. Garaufis agrees.
There’s no question that the FDNY is overwhelmingly white. Caucasians comprise 89 percent of the ranks, compared to 6 percent who are Hispanic and 3 percent who are black. And we understand the idea that the department could serve the city even better than it already does —which is amazingly well — if the membership looked more like the citizenry. But we don’t believe this is the result of intentional, institutional discrimination, as the judge says, or that the ends justify the means, which here amounts to simple reverse discrimination.
It was bad enough that Garaufis declared the last three firefighter exams to be racially biased simply because not enough black applicants passed, or that he threatened to impose outright hiring quotas on the department. Now, through Cohen, he is rubbing salt in the wound by launching an unprecedented outreach program for applicants who did not complete all the requirements, as long as they’re black, while denying the same efforts for members of other races.
The Vulcan Society is in the midst of going door-to-door to the homes of any black candidates who didn’t pay their application fees or failed to complete their paperwork, four months after the deadline passed. The courtesy is for black applicants only. Would-be firefighters of any other race who didn’t dot every I and cross every T are out of luck. That’s how it is despite the fact that Merit Matters, an advocacy group headed by a deputy chief that says race should play no role whatsoever in FDNY hiring, offered to do the same for applicants of all races. Merit Matters’s request was denied.
We have no idea how many of the applicants the Vulcans are visiting still want to join the FDNY. We do know that reverse discrimination violates the civil rights of all people. We know it makes a mockery of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. We know the Rev. Martin Luther King said not to judge a man by the color of skin. And we know the fire department that serves the City of New York should answer to our mayor, not an unelected judge trying to remake society according to his worldview. Garaufis has gone too far, again.