2011-10-14 / Top Stories

Judge: Bloomberg ‘Willfully Ignored Racial Balance’

By Howard Schwach

In a scathing decision that accused New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of willfully ignoring the racial imbalance in the city’s Fire Department, a federal judge ruled on October 5 that a court-appointed independent monitor would be appointed to oversee FDNY’s recruitment efforts in order to ensure that more minority candidates are hired.

The decision by the judge, Nicholas Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, comes at the end of four years of bitter litigation in which the city and the Fire Department stood accused of allowing the department to remain almost 97 percent white for decades.

“Instead of facing hard facts and asking hard questions about the city’s abysmal track record of hiring black and Hispanic firefighters, the Bloomberg administration dug in and fought back,” Garaufis said in his 30-page decision. “Though the city’s use of discriminatory hiring practices has persisted through numerous changes in city leadership, evidence adduced in this case gives little hope that Mayor Bloomberg has any intention of stepping up to the task of ending the discrimination in the NYFD.”

Insiders say that the judge’s ruling was remarkable for both its language and its substance. Judge Garaufis accused the city of “blameshifting” and “accountability avoidance” in ignoring the Fire Department’s longstanding racial inequities.

“The city still doesn’t get it,” he wrote.

He also ruled that the only way to combat this official intransigence was to appoint a monitor with wide-ranging powers and that the monitor should have at least ten years to complete his or her work.

This is the third time that Garaufis has ruled against the city and the fire department.

He is not alone.

In a 1973 opinion, Judge George Weinfeld ruled, “The history of the city’s efforts to remediate its discriminatory firefighter hiring policies can be summarized as follows: 34 years of intransigence followed by deliberate indifference, bookended by identical judicial declarations that the city’s hiring practices are illegal.”

In 1973 the court said that only three percent of the firefighters were black or Hispanic. Today, that percentage remains roughly the same.

In comparison, Garaufis wrote, the police department is 34 percent minority and the corrections department is 79 percent minority.

Bloomberg responded to the judge’s ruling in a prepared statement.

“The judge was not elected to run the city and you can rest assured that we will be in court for a very long time.”

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