New York City won't be hiring new firefighters anytime soon, even though city officials say they are needed to keep the city safe. On Friday, the city rejected all five of the hiring plan options laid out by a federal judge. Judge Nicholas Garaufis proposed the alternatives this week to allow the city to hire more than 300 firefighters who took an exam he had ruled was discriminatory.
But in a statement, Michael Cordoza, corporation counsel with the New York City Law Department, said all of the proposals are "bad public policy," and include "race-based quota" options. He said the city had no other choice but to reject them.
"The citizens of this city are entitled to firefighters who are hired based on their ability rather than on race or ethnicity," he said. "We are committed to ensuring that only the most qualified applicants become New York City firefighters while at the same time doing our very best to recruit the most diverse group of firefighters possible." Cardozo added that hires from the current applicant pool would have represented the city's most diverse yet, had the city been allowed to hire the test's top scorers without using any of the judge's proposals.
The discrimination suit against the city was originally filed by the Vulcan Society, which was represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Darius Charney, an attorney with the center, said he was surprised by the city's decision on Friday, especially since officials say they need to hire more firefighters. "The longer that they fight this case, the longer they fight the judge's rulings, the longer it's going to take to get to a point where we do have a fair hiring system that ensures a diverse and excellent firefighting force," he said.
Charney's group is pushing for a new exam, and he hopes the situation won't turn into a prolonged legal battle. "I like to think that the city shares our goal of creating a diverse fire department that represents the face of this city, and that also is full of qualified, excellent firefighters," he said.
Georgia Pestana, chief of the Labor & Employment Division of the New York City Law Department, says today's decision won't compromise public safety -- but it will cost money. "It costs an additional $1.8 million a month to pay the overtime to staff the fired department," she said. "So, it's a question of economics, and the city will have to find a way to deal with that economic hardship."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on his weekly radio show on WOR on Friday, reiterating comments he's made in the past. "I want the best person taken from the top of the list, period," Bloomberg said. "We are playing with people's lives here. And we are playing with, what I think, one of the basic tenets of America. That everybody has equal opportunity."