Darrien Penix, president of the Firebird Society that fights for the rights of minority firefighters, uses Joe Ganim’s words on the campaign trail against him asserting the Fire Department looks “all white at the top,” a declaration the mayor made when challenging incumbent Bill Finch last year. Penix asserts nothing has changed in the six months of JG2. Ganim, who powered to a historic comeback on the strength of African American support, is receiving heat for the lack of blacks and Latinos in high level Fire Department positions, what Penix wonders is “an anomaly in a city with a 70% minority population?” Who’ll replace the retired Brian Rooney at the top? Penix says it’s already Richard Thode who is white, although Ganim has made no public announcement.
Commentary from Penix:
The Firebird Society is outraged with the fact that Mayor Ganim has lied to the community about the selection of the new fire chief. David Dunn, the Acting Civil Service Director, sent out letters suspending the hiring process for Fire Chief last month; however, Mayor Ganim recently made the statement that the process is continuing. The retirement of the former Fire Chief gave Mayor Ganim the opportunity to select an interim Acting Fire Chief. Two qualified minority Assistant Chiefs were on the short list of candidates to serve in this capacity. A report (Transition Task Force Report) designed to determine issues in the various departments of the city, created by Mayor Ganim’s Office, stated “lack of diversity in the hiring and promotion processes for minorities within the City’s Fire Department is a significant issue.” The recommendation that came out of the report was to implement hiring and promotion practices that will ensure personnel adequately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the community. At the highest level of the Department, Mayor Ganim chose a non-minority Acting Chief which runs contrary to the recommendation of the report.
This was a unique opportunity to do the right thing: address the issue of minority representation in the upper levels of the Fire Department and appoint the first African American Chief in the history of the City of Bridgeport. While running for office, Candidate Ganim was big on diversity, stating “I don’t know what the numbers are, but the Finch Administration looks all white at the top.” During his first six months in office, the Fire Department has become just that–“all white at the top,” thus reaffirming a glass ceiling being in place for Blacks and Hispanics. Thirty six years after a landmark lawsuit opened the doors of the Fire Department to minority applicants, the fight is ongoing for inclusion.
The two African American Assistant Chiefs being considered were never contacted for interviews with Mayor Ganim, or any other Department Heads. The only Hispanic Assistant Chief in the Department was in a position which, by department rules, assumes administration of the Department upon absence of the Fire Chief. He was relieved of his position prior to the retirement of the Fire Chief. This allowed the Mayor to use white privilege to promote the only Assistant Chief that was given consideration all along. The Firebird Society has no idea what criteria were used by Mayor Ganim to select the Acting Fire Chief. It was not seniority as an Assistant Chief. It was not a review of secondary education. It was not residency in the City of Bridgeport. It was not depth of community involvement. We would like to know what the criterion was, if any, that Mayor Ganim based this decision on.
Nationally, the Fire Department has been called the last bastion of segregation. In many respects things have not changed. Currently, the only minority working on the third floor (upper management) of the Bridgeport Fire Department is the custodian. A minority has never held a permanent position above the level of Assistant Chief in this Department. This is the reality that is/has been the Bridgeport Fire Department. In stark contrast, the City of New Haven has had multiple minority Fire Chiefs. The City of Hartford has had multiple minority Fire Chiefs. Why is this still an anomaly in a city with a 70% minority population? How long is this plantation mentality going to plague the Fire Department, where minorities can do everything except lead the Department?
Mayor Ganim had the opportunity to turn a new page within the Fire Department. He did not take advantage of this opportunity and his Civil Service Commission has effectively stopped the process for testing for the permanent position of Fire Chief. The Acting Chief is in place now and without a test being given will be there until the City of Bridgeport decides otherwise. This is altogether unacceptable. Nothing short of an African American having the opportunity to lead the Fire Department will be acceptable. Until then we will keep the fires burning for justice.