By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Associate Editor
MANHATTAN – Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted a federal judge’s ruling that found the FDNY intentionally discriminated against black applicants, blaming the shortage of black firefighters on a lack of interest by potential black recruits.
“I think the judge erred,” Bloomberg said Friday morning on the John Gambling radio show.
“In looking back on what the city did over the years, I don’t think they deliberately tried to be biased against any group. The real problem in the Fire Department has always been who applies. If you don’t apply, you don’t get in,” the mayor said.
“The diversity in the people who want to be in the police department is vastly different that the people who want to be in the fire department.”
There are approximately 350 black firefighters currently serving among the 11,500 in the FDNY – a number far short of the African-American presence in other uniformed services.
The mayor’s comments came days after US District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled the fire department intentionally suppressed the number of black firefighters using discriminatory written tests, casting a “persistent stain” on the otherwise heroic agency.
Bloomberg and former FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta had been named individually in the lawsuit, but the judge dismissed those claims Wednesday on the grounds that public officials can’t be held personally responsible for what they do in their professional capacity.
Bloomberg admitted that the FDNY overhauled their test after Sept. 11, 2001, but he denied that the change was driven by longstanding charges of racism.
“We hired an expert, we crated a new test, not because I think the old one discriminated,” Bloomberg said.
The lawsuit was brought by the Vulcan Society, the black firefighters’ association, after they filed a series of complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission starting in 2002. The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights division, has also sued the city on similar grounds.
The ruling opens the door for the judge to order both sides to come up with a remediation plan about hiring practices, a practice the mayor bristled at.
“In the end courts can order you to do anything, we just have to explain to the judge we're talking about people's lives here,” Bloomberg said.
“The first thing I will do is I will fight as far as I can. We are going to have the best people. When there’s a fire and you’re in your house we want the best trained, most intelligent, bravest people … you can get, I don’t care what their background.”