Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fire in the Holier Than Thou

The revenge of the culpable may be upon us-and those indicted and convicted in the Deutsche Bank fire aren't going down meekly. As the NY Times reports this morning: "Lawyers for three construction supervisors and a demolition subcontractor charged in the fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building argued in court papers filed on Wednesday that city, state and federal agencies and other contractors were more to blame than their clients."

Bring them all before the bar of justice is our motto here-and, as Wayne Barrett dramatized last month, there's indeed a great deal of blame for the city to share: "The Voice's cover story this week, "Bloomberg's Biggest Scandal--the Deutsche Bank Fire--Should Be His Downfall" -- examined the determination of top city officials, including Bloomberg's longtime top deputy Dan Doctoroff, to ignore the risk of installing Bovis Lend Lease and its prime subcontractor Galt at the demolition site of the bank building. Doctoroff brushed aside warnings from the city's investigations department about Galt in deference to Bovis' reckless desire to hire the mob-tainted firm."

And the city's actions in only targeting the fire officiers-but not the agency head-is equally shameful. As the Times pointed out in June: "Seven Fire Department officers were censured on Wednesday for failing to ensure timely inspections before a fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in August 2007. The punishment, far more lenient than could have been meted out, nevertheless drew immediate criticism from union officials, who said department brass had not emphasized the inspectional rule and had rarely enforced it."

And union officials were quick to condemn the selective persecution: "But union officials said that singling anyone out for punishment was misguided because the seven men were as hard-pressed as any of their colleagues to follow the rule in question — one that requires basic inspections at all high-rise buildings, being built or demolished, every 15 days. The union said the rule was widely disregarded. One union official criticized Mr. Scoppetta and the Bloomberg administration, saying that if the 15-day rule were widely known, it should have been known at all levels and in the city government. Failure to make the rule a priority — in the face of a building boom over the last 15 years in Manhattan — rested with the departmental brass, who had been held blameless to date, union officials said."

But Mr. Management is great at taking charge-but not in accepting blame; or even insisting that his commissioners accept it as well: "There is nothing more reprehensible than a leader who pins his own failures onto his subordinates,” said Deputy Chief Richard J. Alles, a Uniformed Fire Officers Association official. “I would say that the buck does have to stop somewhere, and when you run a department, you own it — directly or indirectly,” he said. “So, commissioner, it’s yours, shared with others, including the mayor.”

So we await the journalistic outcry on this entire shameful episode-and not the simple tsk tsk that always seems to accompany a Blomberg blunder. As we commented last month: "Let's not forget that two firefighters were killed as a result of the city's actions here: "Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau has indicted Galt and two of its officials in the negligent homicide case involving the death of two firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, at the bank site. He also charged one Bovis employee, but said he did not indict Bovis because it could have caused the collapse of a company that employs thousands."And, as Barrett has told us, not a single paper has even bothered to call for the removal of the fire commissioner-an incompetent administrator with no fire fighting expertise, whose claim to fame involved a see no evil approach to child abuse when he was in charge of Administration for Children’s Services (ACS)."

So, while the current complainants are certainly guilty-and we all know that misery loves company-it still remains that the real culprits in the death of two of our bravest have never been singled out; not even for the opprobrium they deserve. Talk about Teflon!