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New London - A defiant Wade Hyslop rebuffed people who demanded Monday night that the city councilor explain why he supported the firing of the city's first black firefighter in more than 30 years.
"I will not be intimidated,'' Hyslop said to the group that wanted to know why Hyslop supported a decision by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to fire Alfred Mayo in December just days before his graduation from the state fire academy.
Mayo would have been first black firefighter hired by the New London Fire Department since 1978.
Hsylop, who is black, said he had no comment to representatives of the state NAACP and International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPFF), who also called for the City Council to investigate the mayor's actions.
But Hyslop, a pastor at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, thundered out that he stood by his decision.
"If I were at Trinity Missionary Church, I would say, 'God has not given me a spirit of fear,''' Hyslop shouted to the overflowing crowd during the council meeting. "I stand by my principles."
He also thanked a couple of dozen people who showed up at the meeting to support him, including former City Councilor William Cornish, who is also black.
Cornish defended Hyslop, who is head of the council's Public Safety Committee, and Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover, who both have been criticized for supporting the mayor's decision to fire Mayo.
"I'm glad they are strong enough to take it and not fight back inappropriately," said Cornish, adding that the controversy is splitting the community.
Mayo has alleged he was a victim of racial discrimination and has filed complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against the city and the state fire academy. Last month, he said he was offered his job back, only to have the offer rescinded.
"I'm asking the city to listen to what I have to say,'' Mayo told the council. "It's all been lies. No one sees that as OK."
Finizio had said there were negotiations related to Mayo's "potential claims against the City, including the possibility of reinstatement of Mr. Mayo into the hiring process," but his decision was never reversed.
Outside the meeting, Mayo said his reputation has been so tainted by the mayor that he is not sure he would take the job even if it were offered to him again.
Among those who spoke Monday on behalf of Mayo was Lt. Gary Tinney, first assistant director of the IABPFF and a New Haven firefighter.
Tinney said after the meeting that the issue was about diversifying the New London department, which does not reflect the racial diversity of the city. He said he will continue to apply pressure to change the make-up of the nearly all-white New London department.
"We are fighting for a level playing field,'' Tinney said. "That's what we're talking about."
Lionel Thompson, a lieutenant in the Hartford Fire Department and a member of a black fraternal firefighters' organization, called for an investigation into both Mayo's firing and the state fire academy, where officials gave Mayo a bad recommendation.
He said Hartford has its own training facility and no longer trains its firefighters at the state academy. His department, which is 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic and 40 percent white and other ethnicities, reflects the make-up of Hartford.
While there was also a call for the New London City Council to investigate Finizio's decision, council President Michael Passero, who is a firefighter, said the City Charter precludes it from doing so.
Reading from Section 40 of the charter, Passero said the council cannot dictate or interfere with the hiring or firing of any city employee.