New Haven Firefighters the Supreme


The New York Times gives 2000 census data which shows that New Haven's population if 43% white and 37% black: in other words, these two communities are of roughly similar size, but do not participate equally in the city's civic or economic life. The Times quotes an additional statistic that while one in three entry-level firefighters in New Haven were African-American, blacks represented only 15% of the managerial positions. From the standpoint of DeStefano, a diverse workforce would be a positive goal for the city to achieve, lest an overly white firefighting brass alienate the city's African-American community: certainly the ability to fight fires is a skill which knows no racial designations, but the promotion of a managerial class within public service is, in itself, a public act. If DeStefano had been faced with a fire-related disaster -- had some sort of hypothetical Triangle Shirtwaist incident occurred in New Haven's solidly African-American Dixwell-Whalley neighborhood (itself located in the shadow of Yale's iconic Paine-Whitney gymnasium), public accountability could be assumed to take on a very different cast if the bureaucratic justifications were offered by a white rather than racially-diverse officer corps. In other words, there is every reason to suspect that New Haven -- with the presence of an elite institution like Yale -- would have no problem in accommodating itself to racial diversity strategies that were first implemented at schools like Yale, but which have been adopted quite easily within employment structures which depend heavily on the Ivy-educated elite. For example, the issue of a "diversity hire" within Hollywood's production apparatus is so common as to now be the subject of jokes on TV sitcoms like "Thirty Rock" -- the reasoning is much the same as DeStefano's, I daresay, in that television is a public enterprise of which certain public accountability is demanded. Any racial insensitivity on the part of a TV show can be addressed before the fact, or justified afterward, by the inclusion of a racially diverse team who can evaluate problematic content. It is only natural that DeStefano should have been concerned mostly with the New Haven Fire Department from the standpoint of how it would look on the front page of the New Haven Register in the event of some disastrous happening, which might have sparked off the city's ongoing racial tension.

NPR quoted DeStefano's attorney thus, on the city's rationale: "The plaintiffs were not passed over for promotions. They were not denied promotions. No one less qualified has been promoted. In fact, no one has been promoted at all…There was a real question, however, whether the process was fair. ... The plaintiffs in this case may ultimately receive the promotions, but the city has a duty to ensure a process that does not discriminate." In other words, DeStefano was convinced that by not harming the white applicants, a second solution could be found which did not alienate the black community. Yet DeStefano's managerial sense was to prove that the public appearance of propriety, which he placed above all else in dealing with the results of the initial exam, is a double-edged sword. Ricci's complaints in the media took on the case of accusing DeStefano of impropriety -- or perhaps racial pandering -- for the decision made. The Christian Science Monitor would quote the DeStefano administration's justification for their policy thus: "The city did not adjust test scores to benefit minority candidates, adopt affirmative-action policies, or engage in racially proportional promotions…Rather, upon having its concerns reinforced by a deliberative, open process, it simply declined to use the results." All this is definitely true, but the way in which the matter has played out in the media is a different kettle of fish entirely: if DeStefano's managerial policy made the most sense from the standpoint of public relations, it was public relations that made the policy into a disaster and saw it reversed. If the decision had been conducted more circumspectly, then, it might have been better implemented.

Works Cited

"Supreme Court Hears Firefighter Promotion Case." National Public Radio, 22 April 2009. Accessed 3 March 2011 at:

"Supreme Court to Hear Reverse-Discrimination Case." Christian Science Monitor, 22 April 2009. Accessed 3 March 2011 at:

"Urban Renewal's Final Imposion." Washington Post, 22 October 2006. Accessed 3 March 2011 at:

"Justices to hear White Firefighters' Bias Claims." New York Times, 9 April 2009. Accessed 3 March 2011 at: