Public safety is non-negotiable. That’s the message signaled Tuesday by lawyers defending the Big Apple’s fire department from race-based bullying by the U.S. Justice Department.
Justice is trying to make the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) hire more minorities even though FDNY has taken extraordinary steps to recruit in black and Hispanic communities. The Obama administration, still unsatisfied, ramped up the pressure by demanding admissions quotas for interim hires and extremely low standards on fire-academy entrance exams.
Bowing to Obama wishes, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis created a complicated, multistep process to ram through more minority admissions, effectively forcing a hiring freeze while it all plays out. In February, Obama lawyers proposed an order for the judge to award damage payments, retroactive seniority and benefits accrual to several classes of minority applicants - some of whom missed as much as 70 percent of the questions on a basic firefighter exam.
City attorneys haven’t rolled over. In Tuesday’s answer to the administration’s proposed schedule, they sent notice that the order setting such low standards is off base. “The City plan* to respond substantively by March 31 to the [Obama administration’s] proposed list of eligibility requirements.” In a subsequent footnote, the attorneys indicated the form that substance would take. “The City intends to appeal the Court’s liability findings,” they wrote, adding that New York specifically opposes the proposed grants of retroactive seniority to one group of previously rejected applicants and any cash awards to those who flunked the entrance test. The city will abide by the process created by Judge Garaufis, but it won’t willingly sacrifice the integrity of admissions to FDNY.
The firefighters’ stand has national implications. For example, the Drudge Report and Fox News have highlighted the plight of the Dayton, Ohio, police department, which was forced by the Justice Department to lower its standards for cops. Even Dayton NAACP President Derrick Foward objected. “The NAACP does not support individuals failing a test and then having the opportunity to be gainfully employed,” he said. “If you lower the score for any group of people, you’re not getting the best qualified people for the job.”
Competence and safety, not color, should determine who serves and protects the American public. FDNY is right to fight legal fire with legal fire.