2010-10-08 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Racial And Gender Quotas Are Anathema To Democracy
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Racial quotas are political correctness run amok. The idea that something nefarious must be afoot if the number of people in an organization does not match the numbers in the general population is anathema to democracy.

All you have to do to see that is to take the judge’s contention that the firefighters test must be flawed simply because not enough minority applicants pass the test to its most absurd convolution.

See what happens when you start playing with racial statistics in relation to jobs that have specific qualifications.

According to the Department of City Planning website, white residents make up 35 percent of New York City’s population. Hispanics make up 27 percent, blacks, 24.5 percent, while 9 percent are Asian or Pacific Islanders.

Now, I always wanted to play basketball for the New York Knicks. The fact that I am only 5 foot 9 and can’t make a jump shot should have nothing to do with it, at least by the judge’s criteria.

Racial statistics trump job requirements.

On any NBA team, according to the city agency’s website and the judge’s racial quota ideal, there should be three whites, three Hispanics, two blacks and an Asian or Pacific Islander. How come federal judge Nicholas Garaufis hasn’t addressed that inequity? In fact, since we’re talking about New York City, one of those white players had better be Jewish.

And, now about women. They make up about half of the populaiton, yet there are no women on any of the New York City professional sports teams.

If you follow the judge’s logic, half of the New York Yankess should be famale.

Why not require half of the local professional hockey goalies to be female? Why not half of the New York Giant linebackers?

Stupid? Of course it is.

Just as stupid as saying that the New York City Firefighters test must be racially biased simply because too few blacks and Hispanics passed the latest test.

Garaufis admittedly knows nothing about being a firefighter or what it takes to do the job.

He has decided, however, to rule that the test is biased and must be changed based solely on the numbers of each group who passed or failed. His hypothesis:If too many minorities failed, then the test must be invalid. Doesn’t he know that numbers often lie?

Take a look at Bloomberg and his standardized test scores over the past six years, where cut scores were changed to show that kids were really improving in reading and math when, in fact, they were not.

The numbers that flowed from those tests were fatally flawed and lied in such a blatant way that the state got embarrassed and finally raised the cut scores to what they were a fews years ago, moving back to reality and proving that the schools were actually worse off under Bloomberg and Klen than they were previously.

That the mayor and his chancellor continue to spin the educational lie to make his stewardship look like a success does not mean that the test scores were not blatant lies for the past several years.

The same is true with the firefighter test scores. Just because many minorities fail the test does not mean that its flawed. If the test does measure the skill set necessary to succeed as a firefighter, failure on the test simply means that those who passed the test are more qualified and should be hired. Race and gender should have nothing to do with it.

There are very specific requirements to be a firefighter that do not appear for many other jobs – strength, agility, the ability to read and to make snap decisions.

I have seen the firefighter test and looked at it with the eye of a test specialist with 30 years of teaching and testing experience. I believe that the test did measure what a firefighter has to know and the skills that one needs to do the job.

In fact, if I were a black applicant, I would be appalled that the judge seemed to be saying that a test is unfair to a black candidate if it requires basic reading skills.

When the judge decided that the test was no good and that the city could not hire any more firefighters until he found a test he liked, the city responded by saying that the city was in peril if 300 new firefighters were not hired reasonably soon.

That’s when Garaufis proposed racial quotas.

He gave the city some choices that they had no choice but to reject.

One would be that the FDNY could hire by picking names at random from a pool of candidates that matched the racial and ethnic background of all the people who took the test. That pool would include all of the people who took the test with two exceptions. The lowest-ranked white candidates would be replaced by the highest ranked black candidates below the 2,500 cutoff point.

Other plans involved a strict quota — there is no other way to put it.

For example, the city could hire only if it chose a black candidate for every two white candidates, no matter where they were on the rank-order list.

The city rejected all of the plans.

“Hiring candidates from the list would have guaranteed the city hired the most qualified candidates,” said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo. “At the same time, it would have increased the department’s diversity. We have no other choice but to reject the quotas.”

Submitting to Garaufis would have set a precedent where agencies hired based not on merit, but on race and ethnicity.

That is not the way a democracy does business.

In a democracy, one hires the best candidate for the job and, often, particularly in the area of civil service jobs, that means one who does better on the test than the other applicants.

If the test is fair to all, and I believe that the firefighters test is fair, then those who do best on the written and performance tests are hired.It is really as simple and as fair as that, and that is what the Civil Service Law requires. What is unfair is to judge the test simply because one group or another did poorly on that test.Race should not be a determinant for hiring, neither for whites nor for blacks.

Race, however, has always played a large part in political decisions and Rockaway has suffered greatly because of it.

Twenty years ago, another federal judge decided that the number of people in our legislative bodies was racist because there were too few minority members of the City Council and the Assembly.

When the new lines were drawn for the City Council, for example, the number of council members was increased to 51 from 35 and all of the new seats had to be represented by minority candidates.

To insure that, those who drew the new districts looked at census tract maps. Every census tract that included a majority of minorities went into the new district. Every census tract that was made up of largely white voters stayed in the old district. The law that districts had to be contiguous was ignored by using bridges and subway lines to tie the district together. That is why today we have two council members and two representatives in the Assembly.

They were ethnically reserved seats, and that is wrong for democracy as well.

Where will this all lead? Ask Garaufis. He seems to have all the answers.

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