Friday, October 21, 2005

Where There's Smoke, Sometimes There's, Well, Smoke

In today's Daily News Errol Louis hits on some human rights themes two of which, minority contracting and the racial composition of the FDNY, deserve a comment or two. As far as the contracting issue we think that Louis is right on point. We all welcome the mayor's election year recognition of the racial disparities in the awarding of contracts to minority firms but as we have said before this recognition needs to lead to real empowerment and not booty-crumb capitalism that, while giving minority contractors some secondary work, continues to give the real benefits to all of the usual suspects.

The poster child of this issue is of course the Fernandez brothers who were passed over on the Bradhurst supermarket development by Deputy Dan in favor of his friend Steve Ross of the Related Companies. The brothers, heads of a $50+ million business are still waiting for the "partnership" that Dan promised them when he cavalierly passed them over.

As far as the FDNY is concerned the issue may be a bit more complicated. While the agency remains heavily white, the actions of the firefighters in the performance of their duties has always been heroic and color-blind. It is the only city service whose best practitioners vie for placements in the city's toughest neighborhoods (compare this to teachers with seniority who look to transfer out as soon as they can).

So while the issue of the composition of the force needs to be addressed it should not be done so in any spirit of malice. We need to come up with better recruitment methods and uncover the reasons for the failure of previous efforts. The entire issue shouldn't be seen through the prism of 1950's Southern-style racism. This will only complicate things without leading to any positive changes. What should be avoided at all costs are efforts to alter the testing methodologies that would compromise the quality of the firefighting cadres.