Pressure on FDNY Over Minority Hiring

(New York -WABC, March 7, 2005) -- There are new questions about minority hiring at the FDNY. The U.S. Justice Department is already investigating why only three percent of firefighters are African Amercian. Now some members of the city council are now pushing for an ordinance that would pressure the fire department to increase the number of minority firefighters.

This is about discrimination and a lack of recruitment effort by the Bloomberg Administration. Those charges, those accusations are coming not only from the current crop of black firefighters here in the city but also from the chairwoman of the city's Fire and Criminal Justice Committee.

Michael Bloomberg, (R) New York City Mayor: "I see a more diverse class representing the FDNY's next generation of leaders."

There are many who sharply disagree with the mayor's diversity assessment, and they point to today's graduating class of probationary firefighters as a prime example. Of the 143 grads, only two are black.

Paul Washington, Vulcan Society: "Eight percent of those who took the test for the fire department were black. We're coming on the job, as you can see today by these pathetic numbers, at one or two percent."

Nicholas Scoppetta, NYC Fire Commissioner: "We've tripled the number of minorities coming on the fire department during our time in office as compared to the prior ten years before we got into office. So we're making significant progress."

The progress isn't fast enough for Yvette Clark. The councilwoman says the Giuliani Administration had a very effective cadet program that greatly diversified the FDNY. So on Wednesday, she'll introduce legislation to bring it back.

Yvette Clarke, (D) NYC Council Member: "What it does is it brings a lot more exposure to communities of color, to women, on college campuses.. To the real deal of what being an FDNY employee is all about."

The councilwoman's legislation comes on the heels of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the FDNY's hiring practices, an investigation focusing on whether the department discriminates against blacks and Hispanics, particularly on the exam given to recruits.

Scoppetta: "it is not a question of a discriminatory process by any means. It is a straight civil service process, job related exam.."

Speaking of the test, the commissioner pointed out that in just about every racial category: Black , white , Latino, Asian, the percentage of applicants is nearly identical to the percentage of people who pass the test - thereby supporting his contention that it's not discriminatory.

We thought we'd get ahold of the justice department to see what they think of the racial makeup of the latest graduating class. We got hold of them, but they had no comment.