Black leaders avoid talk about firing black firefighter recruit

Yoo Hoo.

Calling Councilor Wade Hyslop.

Where are you?

Last Friday, a group representing black firefighters from around the state, as well as state and local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, turned out at City Hall in New London to complain about the treatment of black people in the city.

They cited allegations that a city police officer planted drugs on a black man, an incident captured on videotape. And they criticized the decision of Mayor Finizio to fire the first black male to be hired by the city fire department in more than 30 years.

State Rep. Ernie Hewett, another black leader in the city, showed up Friday and stepped in front of the array of television cameras to say he was disturbed by the allegations of drugs being planted. He added that there are still a lot of good police officers in New London.

And where were you, Councilor Hyslop?

Both you and Jane Glover, the mayor's new chief administrative officer, a former mayor and longtime black political leader in the city, were noticeably absent from an event focused on the treatment of black people in the city.

At the very least, wouldn't it have been a good idea to turn up and hear the complaints firsthand, instead of watching them on statewide TV?

I tried to reach both Hyslop and Glover for this column, but neither returned messages.

And yet both have been cited prominently by Mayor Finizio as part of his justification for firing the black recruit Alfred Mayo. Finizio said both Hyslop and Glover concurred with the decision.

I did reach Hyslop a few weeks ago, when I first learned about Mayo's firing, and the councilor said then that he had concurred with the mayor's decision. He said at the time, though, that he wanted to meet with Mayo himself, which I understand he later did.

Since then, he's gone silent, not returning phone calls.

I had a chance this week to review Mayo's personnel file with the city, provided in response to a freedom of information request.

I still couldn't find any good reasons to fire him and came away more puzzled than ever about the decision by Mayor Finizio to let him go.

Mayo did have a poor driving history, but the city hired him and sent him to the firefighting academy knowing that.

In firing Mayo, the mayor cited his grades. But his personnel records show he was pretty close to the range of others in his class and other recruits who have been sent to the academy by the city.

His lowest class homework quiz, for instance, was 79.4, and he also had a 96.9 and a 93.2. Other recruits from New London had scores of 81.14 and 88.13.

In one marking period, Mayo had a homework average of 96.6, compared with a class average of 96.7. He had a quiz average of 88.3, compared to 89.9 for his class. Results were similar in the other major marking period.

There were also some lowish scores, some 2s and 3s, on some subjective ratings, like behavior and effort, but they were not far out of the range for other recruits sent by the city. Many other city recruits had 2s and 3s. Mayo clearly had fewer 4s than most others.

There were also several incidents in which Mayo apparently clashed with academy instructors, one in which he was, strangely, criticized for his facial expressions, another in which he didn't confess to writing the name of his class in wet cement, which he says he didn't do, and another in which he was photographed by another recruit making an obscene gesture.

Maybe he had a bad experience because he was the only black male in a class of 48?

Whether the city was justified in terminating Mayo may ultimately be decided in another forum. But the case has most certainly highlighted a huge embarrassment for the city, which, despite its large minority population, has a largely white firefighting force.

Some of the blame for this certainly lies with Ronald Samul, who has been fire chief since 1985.

But I think the black political leaders in the city who have been around a long time also bear responsibility. Where were they when the city kept hiring white firefighters from the suburbs?

Couldn't they have done more to help recruit from within the city?

I would have asked Hyslop and Glover about this, if they had shown up last Friday or answered my phone messages.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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