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FDNY diversity lacking: Comrie

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) joined Latino and black watchdog groups and other city leaders on the steps of City Hall last week to call on the mayor to stop fighting a court order that demands the FDNY improve its hiring practices for minorities.

Comrie and several other Council members said during a news conference Feb. 3 that Mayor Michael Bloomberg needed to adhere to the decision that Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis made about the city’s hiring practice for firefighters.

Last month the judge said in his decision in an appeals case on a lawsuit filed against the FDNY contending that minority applicants had their civil rights violated and the FDNY’s application test intentionally discriminated against them. The ruling, which the city may appeal,said that roughly 3.3 percent of the FDNY’s nearly 9,000 members were Latino and 6.7 percent of the department was black as of 2007.

Comrie, who is in the process of introducing city bills to help black and Latino firefighters’ prospects, said the mayor was preventing positive change in the department by appealing the ruling on the case even though the city has not acted yet.

“I’m disturbed that this mayor continues to take a head-in-the-sand approach toward this issue and I’m extremely proud to stand with my colleagues today in challenging the administration to cease its efforts to resist the eventual true integration of the New York City Fire Department,” the councilman said in a statement.

Garaufis ruledthat the department should hire two blacks and one Latino for every five firefighters.

Stu Loeser, Bloomberg’s spokesman, said the FDNY is open to New Yorkers of all backgrounds.

“We’re not commenting on the case, but the Fire Department is justifiably proud that its outreach work led to minorities now being more than one out of every three people on the list to be hired as firefighters,” he said in statement.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, a nonprofit established to help improve the civil rights of minorities, said the FDNY test had questions that were not related to the job.

Vulcan representative Paul Washington said the low numbers of minorities in the Fire Department were not acceptable in a diverse city like New York.

“He can either be remembered as the mayor who helped integrate FDNY or as the mayor who tried and failed to stop FDNY’s integration. Either way, 145 years of an all-white fire department will almost certainly be coming to a close,” he said.

Comrie is planning on changing the racial status quo with a new bill that gives applicants extra points if they have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. The bill, according to the councilman, would be an incentive for minority applicants to get a strong education.

Comrie said he has been in talks with representatives in the state Legislature to introduce similar bills at the state level.

“In New York City and in Albany, an ugly stain has been perpetuated and it is incumbent for people of goodwill to stand up and say this is wrong,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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