Officials accuse FDNY of 'systemic racism'

City council members said they doubt the FDNY's commitment to adding diversity to its ranks after it refused to hire Andre Laurant

By Erin Durkin
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — City Council members denounced the FDNY Tuesday over its refusal to hire Andre Laurant, who is suing the department for discrimination.

At a press conference on the steps of City Hall, the pols said they doubt the FDNY's commitment to adding diversity to its ranks after it refused to hire Laurant, who is black, but hired the son of a former FDNY fire commissioner despite a history of tweeting racist slurs.

The FDNY tossed Laurant's application to be a firefighter because he failed to disclose two minor arrests from two decades ago.

"Let's just call it what it is — systemic racism," said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Queens). "We are standing here defending his right to save us. This makes no sense to me. We are defending his right to go into burning buildings."

Joseph Cassano, the son of former Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, who is white, was allowed to become a probationary firefighter despite a history of racist and anti-Semitic social media posts that led him to resign from the Emergency Medical Service four years ago.

He was later rehired as an EMT and then became a firefighter.

Laurant pointed to Mayor de Blasio's comments on the case — saying that people deserve second chances — in pleading his own case to join the FDNY in a federal lawsuit last week.

Councilman Andy King (D-Bronx) said the two cases show a persistent double standard.

"That's truly just biased," he said.

The FDNY paid $98 million to settle a long-running discrimination lawsuit by the Vulcan Society, charging it was discriminating against black and Latino applicants. The department says it's now made big strides in making its ranks more diverse.

"The Department's commitment to hiring people of color and women has never been stronger — evidenced by the fact that we've more than doubled the number of minorities and women firefighters in the last four years, to more than 2,000 — the highest level ever," said spokesman Frank Gribbon.

An arrest record alone does not disqualify someone from becoming a firefighter. But Laurant was found not qualified because he lied on his application, Gribbon said.

Cassano, meanwhile, was initially assigned to a firehouse in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, but was moved to Staten Island after protests. He once tweeted "I like Jews about as much as hitler."

"Joseph Cassano received a second chance in life," said Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn). "Where is Andre's second chance?"

Laurant said he is still holding out hope of achieving his longtime dream to become a firefighter.

"All I ask for is a second chance," he said.

Copyright 2018 New York Daily News

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