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Sound the Alarm: City Rejects Judge's Options to Unfair FDNY Test

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By Jasmin K. Williams, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News Newspaper –

The fight for fair testing and hiring practices within the Fire Department New York (FDNY) continues as an extra 30 days is granted to all parties to think about how to proceed and the city now refuses to hire new firefighters and has rejected options to revamp the current test proposed by Federal District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Last August, Garaufis ruled that the Entrance Exam 6019 was unfair because it is biased against minority candidates and does not successfully establish a difference between qualified and unqualified candidates.

The court gave the city the opportunity to chose from among five options that involved hiring individuals who had passed the 2007 entrance exam until such time that a new test is created.

The judge, recognizing the city’s hiring needs, determined that the city could do interim hiring, as long as it was done in a non-discriminatory manner. This was supported by the Vulcan Society, the professional association of Black firefighters.

The city, however has rejected all five of Judge Garaufis’ proposals, deeming them to be illegal, race-based quotas, choosing instead to delay the hiring of approximately 300 firefighters and increase overtime for current firefighters at an estimated cost of $2 million.

“The city respectfully believes that using raced-based quotas to select firefighters is both illegal and unwise public policy,” stated a letter to Garaufis from the city’s corporation counsel, Michael A. Cardozo. “For these reasons, the city declines to select any one of the five proposals offered by the Court.”

There is a need to revamp the FDNY’s disproportionately white ranks to accurately and fairly reflect the diversity of the city it serves. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America. While the combined Black and Latino population of New York City is more than half the total population of the city, Black and Latino firefighters make up roughly 4 percent and 7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. More than half of Los Angeles and Philadelphia’s firefighters and 40 percent of Boston’s firefighters are comprised of people of color.

Darius Charney, an attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights, offered insight on the judge’s ruling and the options that were proposed.

“The goal of all five options is to ensure that if the city is to hire new firefighters while they create a new test—which they must do—the new test must not have a disparate affect on minority candidates,” Charney said.

“One option involves random selection from among the top 2,500 on the eligibility list. The list would be adjusted to ensure that the pool would include 17.5 percent Black and 18.5 percent Hispanic candidates, reflecting the number of minority applicants that took the test so that the proportions were adequate.

“Another proposal was called ‘applicant flow.’ The city has a list, which ranks applicants based on their test scores. The city has processed enough people to give 300 offers. That group would have to be adjusted to reflect the 17.5 percent Black and 18.5 percent Hispanics applicants. Some white candidates would have to be replaced.

“Another version of this option would be to bring in a class of 221 applicants, which would include 22 Black and 33 Hispanic candidates and remove from that group the lower scoring whites. This would create a class with the proper proportions. An additional 13 Black and four Hispanic candidates would have to be processed,” Charney explained.

He stated that one of the other options proposed “hiring the group of 300 right away, but a second class would be hired in January, ensuring that the two classes combined reflected the proportion of minority applicants.

“The last proposal is a hybrid approach. A group of 117 would be hired from the list of 300. This would include 20 Blacks and 22 Hispanic candidates. The advantage would be to hire from the initial group of 300 without having to go farther down the list to reflect the ration of applicants who passed the test.

“The passing rate on the test was higher for whites than Blacks or Hispanics. The problem is when you give an objective test and you see a huge disparity. You’d like to think that most employers would want to have a diverse work force,” Charney said.

“The question becomes, should you be using this test? If you get a score of 95 on this test, does it mean that you are a better candidate? The test is the same one given 40 years ago. The judge has found that this test does not accurately determine who will be a better firefighter,” Charney added.

“If you are giving an employment test that has this severe of a racial disparity then the employer better have a darn good reason to keep using this test. In July 2009, the court ruled that the 1999 and 2002 exams were not valid measures of who the most qualified firefighters would be. In August of this year, the court ruled the same thing. These are bad tests. The city has no legitimate reason to continue to use them. A candidate that passes an unfair test is no more deserving than a candidate that gets a lower score.

“This is about discrimination by an employer by using a test that does not determine the best candidate for a job and which issues a disparity to minority applicants for that job. The law is if the test has a discriminatory impact on a racial group or if the test does not measure who is the best candidate, it violates Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“President H. W. Bush signed the Civil Rights act of 1991, which made it a violation of federal law to use an employment criteria such as a test or other screening method that has a discriminatory impact and that does not measure the skills required for the job,” Charney said.

“A new test could take six months to a year to develop and it would then have to be administered and scored. It could take up to two years to have a new list of applicants to hire from. All of the five options given were legal, though some were better than others. None of these approaches would force the city to hire applicants who are not qualified for the job,” Charney concluded.

A statement issued by attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Levy Ratner, representing the Vulcan Society, said in part, “Since Exam 6019 does not predict job performance in any way, hiring from higher or lower scores makes no difference in terms of hiring the most qualified firefighter candidates. Using 6019 scores is like hiring a Major League first baseman on the basis of a written exam. The test has nothing to do with who would be the best firefighters. Yet, the city’s top attorney issued a statement asserting, ‘The citizens of this city are entitled to firefighters who are hired based on their ability rather than their race or ethnicity.’ Time and time again, the test has been shown to have no bearing whatsoever on ability. The city has chosen to ignore the court’s well-reasoned opinion that the current test does not predict better performance on the job.”

Fire Captain Paul Washington, who is also a former president of the Vulcan Society, said, “Mayor Bloomberg is a new version of George Wallace, who said, ‘Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.’ All people who demand fairness and equality have to finally stand up and say that we’re not going to let you keep this fire department all White. His not following the judge’s order and by stymieing the council’s attempts to pass the bonus points for New York City high school graduates is stopping the fire department from being integrated.”

Will the Real Congressman Jackson Stand Up?

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

After news broke that Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. had an illicit relationship with a white woman in Washington, D.C. and met with an Indian political group, allegedly to talk about raising funds for former Governor Rod Blagojevich, his opponent in the upcoming congressional election said Jackson needs to come clean about all of his recent dealings. Isaac Hayes is the Republican nominee running against Jackson. He said the people of the second congressional district have a right to know who Jackson is.

“I think what all the congressional district members want is for him to tell the truth. Just be open and honest about what happened and why he did it, then we can decide whether or not we believe him,” Hayes said.

“I think he needs to answer to this situation. There are people who have supported him who are now questioning his honesty and integrity. I’m not concerned about the legal ramifications, I’m concerned about the people who want to have a representative in Washington with character and values and right now that’s in question.”

As details continue to emerge about the encounter between Jackson and local businessman Raghuveer Nayak, the congressman said he has done nothing wrong and continues to seek office.

Jackson’s comments came a day after a report published in the Chicago Sun-Times alleges that Jackson directed Nayak during a meeting in D.C. to donate millions of dollars to Blagojevich’s campaign fund in exchange for Jackson being named to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President Obama.

In a written statement released to the media, Jackson restated that he has done nothing illegal and that he has spoken with federal investigators. He said no charges have been filed and he never expects them to be filed. He further believes it would be silly for him to raise millions of dollars for someone other than himself.

“My interest in the senate seat was based on years of public service, which I am proud of,” the statement began, “not some improper scheme with anyone.”

Jackson went on a local Chicago radio station and taunted federal investigators telling them to “bring it on” if they had any evidence against him. Many feel that was an unwise move on his part and believe all of the media attention out about Jackson’s professional and personal life is because of his interest in running for mayor.

“I think all of this is connected because the election is coming up,” said Raymont Sullivan, who lives in Jackson’s district. “What he did with that woman is between him and his wife. The feds haven’t charged him with a thing. In fact, they said some months back he wasn’t a target of any investigation. So, I think this is all political smearing and it is working.”

Jackson asked for privacy on the matter concerning his relationship with a D.C. bar hostess. Giovana Huidobro was allegedly flown to Chicago on at least two occasions by Nayak at Jackson’s request. His wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson said the couple has had to deal with the Huidobro situation in the past.

“The reference to a social acquaintance is a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago,” Jackson said in his statement. “I ask that you respect our privacy.

“I know I have disappointed some supporters, and for that I am deeply sorry. But I remain committed to serving my constituents and fighting on their behalf.”

Hayes thinks it is time for new leadership in the district Jackson has represented for eight terms. He said he knows he has an uphill battle as an African American Republican. But, he believes the election of Barack Obama two years ago has shown that Americans are not as concerned about political parties or race as in the past. He said they want a person who can fix the problems ailing their communities. He also thinks Jackson is disingenuous when he is talking about the possibility of running for mayor of Chicago while still being in Congress.

“He is expected to serve out two years as a congressman, if elected. If he runs for mayor and wins that would mean he is only going to serve as congressman for three months,” Hayes said.

“That would be unfair to the people that have gone to the polls. They are not getting full disclosure. They want someone who is going to go into that office and clean up some of the problems that have been created in the past 16 years.”

Asked to elaborate on what those problems are, Hayes had three words: jobs, jobs, jobs. He said if elected, he plans to cut taxes for businesses so they can invest in underserved communities. Hayes has a website for his campaign and given all of the recent press given to Jackson’s troubles, he said he has gotten a crush of web hits and phone calls from voters trying to find out about his platform.

First Black Town Incorporated in Alabama Wants ZIP Code

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Special to the NNPA from The Birmingham Times –

HOBSON CITY, Ala. (AP) – Officials in Hobson City, the first Black town incorporated in Alabama more than a century ago, want their own ZIP code.

Hobson City currently shares its ZIP code – 36201 – with Anniston, but Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory says the town of less than a thousand residents wants its own postal service identity. “We need to make sure Hobson City is not lost,’’ she said. ‘’We were never a part of Anniston, but we are lumped in with them and that is not a good thing for us.”

U.S. Postal Service spokesman Joseph Breckenridge told The Anniston Star in a story Monday that Hobson City’s identity crisis has been shared by other small towns. “When we created ZIP codes, we did it just to serve mail,’’ Breckenridge said. ‘’But some thought ZIP codes are the same as city boundaries, but they are not, and they get all scrambled up because of the way cities grow. Sometimes some addresses are in the same municipalities but are served by different post offices.’’

Originally a part of Oxford, Hobson City was incorporated in 1899 and has struggled financially in recent years due mainly to an insufficient tax base. Some city leaders have said the shared ZIP code is partly to blame. But Anniston Finance Director Danny McCullars said Hobson City needs to inform its vendors and taxpayers that license fees and local taxes need to be paid.

“It’s not about the ZIP code, it’s about physical location,’’ he said. County revenue officials said property tax revenue is paid to municipalities based solely on physical location.

Decades ago, a post office was contracted out to a small Hobson City business called Young’s Grocery, and the memory of that little post office has led some in Hobson City to believe it once had its own ZIP code. But the Postal Service has no record of the town having a separate ZIP code.

While ZIP codes typically are shown with only five digits, there are four other digits that post offices can use to identify specific residences. Breckenridge said they might help Hobson City.

Homeowners Converge On Members of Congress for National Foreclosure Week of Action

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

On Wednesday, September 22nd at 10:45 a.m., homeowners from around the country joined NACA CEO Bruce Marks at the United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, NE in Washington, D.C. to kick off NACA’s “National Foreclosure Week of Action.”

Thousands of at-risk homeowners then converged on Members of Congress’s Washington office or district office to have them advocate for their affordable mortgage solution for the next week. The army of homeowners going to Capitol Hill and district offices urged their Congressperson and Senators to advocate for them in achieving their affordable solution by the end of September.

While NACA has worked with the homeowners to determine and document an affordable mortgage payment, advocacy is still necessary to achieve this solution. NACA is urging Congress to advocate for their constituents by urging lenders to approve the NACA solution. This is a continuation of NACA’s Save the Dream Tour that travels the nation lowering unaffordable mortgage payments for many thousands of homeowners.

This is the first time so many homeowners will converge on Capitol Hill having Members of Congress get personally involved in saving their homes. The call to action will go on for a week, to give Members of Congress enough time to come back to their constituents with some good news.

“We need help and we need it now,” said Bo Huber of Miami, FL. “All we want is for our representative to pick up the phone and write letters to our banks advocating on our behalf.”

Members of Congress have a tremendous amount of influence in assisting their constituents with an unaffordable mortgage. They have direct access to the lenders who prioritize referrals from Congress. They also have influence on government owned or guaranteed mortgages that are the most difficult to modify and are being foreclosed on in large numbers.

In addition, the requirements imposed by the government’s Making Home Affordable program are making other modifications more difficult. “It is up to Congress to advocate for their constituents,” states Bruce Marks, NACA CEO. “It is time that Members of Congress make the government program work and send a strong message to the lenders – that they will not have access or influence unless they modify the mortgages for their constituents.

Our government must side with the millions of average working Americans who are desperately trying to keep their homes at an affordable payment,” said Marks.

More Americans Living in Poverty Now than when Eisenhower was President

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from The Amsterdam News

Let’s add 3.8 million people to the list of impoverished Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last Thursday, the Bureau released a report that stated that one out of every seven American citizens lived in poverty last year. It’s the highest rate since 1959. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that then President Lyndon B. Johnson would launch his “War on Poverty” initiative.

About 43.6 million people in America lived in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, which is an increase from 2008’s rate of 13.2 percent. It’s also the highest level since 1994. The U.S. government classifies an annual income of $21, 756 for a family of four as impoverished. A record high 50.7 million Americans went without health insurance in 2009 amidst the heated debate regarding President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

And according to a couple of analysts, things might not get better until the end of the decade.

According to a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, Isabel Sawhill, the poverty rate is slated to hit 16 percent and stay at that level during the 2010s. She also came to the conclusion that the poverty club will add 10 million people this decade, which includes 6 million children.

Robert Greenstein also has a similarly dismal outlook for America. The executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington noted that in the country’s last three recessions, poverty rates don’t decrease until a year after drops in the unemployment rate.

As for the numbers concerning New York? They look even bleaker than the rest of the country’s.

According to Census Bureau statistics, the poverty rate in New York State rose from 14.2 percent in 2008 to 15.8 percent in 2009, essentially upping the number of people in poverty from 284,000 to just over 3 million. The only time that New York State suffered a poverty jump this high in a 12-month span was from 1989 to 1990.

All of this feeds right into the desires of one civil and human rights leader to mark jobs as the next big issue facing Washington.

Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition wrote an open letter to public officials calling on a more efficient way to tackle the issue of poverty in the richest nation in the world.

“As people of conscience, as elected leaders of the greatest democracy in the world, we ask ourselves, is there not a need for a new war on poverty or a Great Society plan similar to that enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson?” read Jackson’s statement.

“Dr. [Martin Luther] King's cry for a Poor People’s Campaign has come full circle. There must be a sense of urgency to address this moral and economic crisis. In Stimulus I, we have watered the leaves. We need Stimulus II to water the roots.”

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, we had a plan for security, stability, investment reconstruction, and rebuilding infrastructure,” said Jackson. “Our people, our cities, our nation deserves nothing less.”

Jackson suggested that the American government enact a “modern-day homesteading program” where unemployed urban citizens can reclaim lost homes and learn carpentry, plumbing and green jobs skills in order to rebuild America.

David R. Jones, Esq., of the Community Service Society of New York, expressed distress at what America has become and hopes that the poor of the country will not be forgotten like he feels they usually are. “We are seeing a new poor—previously middle-class or working-class people who had jobs and were able to make ends meet,” said Jones in another released statement. “Many have been jobless for so long that they are queuing up for public welfare benefits. We are wasting lives, and we cannot afford to do so. Many communities—both urban and rural—now mirror a third world country, with adults sitting around with no jobs and no future for them or their families.”

Both Jackson and Jones believe that jobs sponsored by the government are the solution to the economic downturn, but both suggest that the time to debate is over and the time to act is now.

“It is up to our leaders, both in government and the private sector, to move away from old habits and patterns of thought and respond to this national crisis,” said Jones. “Unless we change our priorities, we will be creating generations mired in chronic poverty. The eventual result will be the economic downgrading of America to second-class status.”

“We can begin to work our way out,” said Jackson. “Congressional leaders, take the bold step of committing to reducing poverty by 50 percent over the next 10 years—half in 10! America, give us a listening ear…There is no time to waste. It’s time for a change.”

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