2002-04-06 / Front Page

Broad Channel Three Get To ‘Ask The Mayor’

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Three Broad Channel men – two firefighters and a police officer – who were fired from their city jobs after performing a blackface skit during the 1998 Labor Day Parade will soon get their chance to ask questions about why they were fired, of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and two of his former commissioners.

Lawyers for the three – former firefighters Jonathan Walters and Robert Steiner and former police officer Joseph LoCurto – will get their chance to take depositions from Giuliani, his fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen and his police commissioner, Howard Safir.

The depositions come after a federal judge ruled last year that the former officials can be questioned and held personally liable for violating the federally protected free speech right of the three men.

The three men are suing the city for reinstatement, lost benefits, pay and pension.

They allege that by firing them for their off-duty behavior, while out of uniform and not representing their respective agencies, the city violated their constitutional rights.

They were among a group of young men who rode a float that held a banner saying "Black to the Future: Broad Channel, 2098." They wore blackface and threw watermelon and fried chicken to the crowd that lined Cross Bay Boulevard for the annual parade.

The performance was videotaped and appeared on the Channel Two News the day after the parade.

The next day, the mayor announced that any city employee involved in that "disgusting display of racism," would be fired.

The three allege that this amounted to a de facto order on the part of the mayor to fire them no matter what the evidence.

In fact, a month later, all three lost their jobs after administrative hearings.

According to the laws that govern civil service employees, city workers can be fired for off-duty activities only if officials can demonstrate that the behavior impacts negatively on the workplace.

While the city alleged that the actions of the three would impact their interaction with minority members of their services, they allege that the city failed to determine what impact their display would have on their respective workplaces.

No date has yet been set for either the depositions or the trial in Manhattan Federal Court.

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