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Al Mayo is still waiting for back pay

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published August 10. 2012 4:00AM

I thought the sad story of New London firing the first black firefighter hired in more than 30 years came to a final end back in May, when Mayor Finizio, bowing to pressure, agreed to rehire Al Mayo.

In the May press conference in which he announced his change of mind, Finizio promised an "unconditional" reinstatement, with the city reimbursing Mayo for his legal expenses and months of lost pay.

A searing report by the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection on the state firefighting academy, where New London had sent Mayo for training, suggested that the recruit was a clear victim of discrimination.

Mayo was the only black student at the academy when Finizio agreed in December to pull him out and then fired him.

State Rep. Ernest Hewett, a longtime black political leader in the city, championed Mayo's cause from the beginning, saying the recruit was railroaded. Hewett was the first to call for an investigation of the academy, saying from the outset that the criticisms by academy staff of the black recruit did not ring true.

I was surprised to hear a few weeks ago that Mayo was still waiting for the back pay that the mayor had promised in May.

When I caught up with him this week, he confirmed he is indeed still waiting.

Naturally, he hasn't been able to climb out of the financial hole he fell into when he got fired just before Christmas.

He had some time off from work this week but had canceled a trip to Ohio he had been planning to take with some other model railroad enthusiasts, for a convention of hobbyists, because he couldn't afford it.

Mayo has also had to take one of the family cars off the road because he couldn't pay to renew the registration and has been worried about where to find money for back-to-school shopping for his children.

He has been getting regular pay as a firefighter, but is ineligible to work overtime because of rules that prohibit it for the first six months on the job.

The threat of firefighter layoffs threatened by Mayor Finizio were also especially worrisome for Mayo, since his unemployment benefits would have been much less than if he had been paid for the months he was fired, he says.

So, in addition to the financial hardship caused by not paying Mayo the back pay he is due, he was also subjected to additional anxiety, thinking he would not get much unemployment compensation if he and other firefighters were laid off as the mayor promised.

Paying the back pay would have relieved those extra fears.

I emailed a request for an explanation of the situation to City Hall Wednesday and got a prompt call back from Mayor Finizio.

"I've got good news," the mayor started the call, and I thought maybe he was going to tell me a check to Mayo had been cut.

Instead, I got a long litany of what's been holding things up for all these months, from lawyers scrutinizing the deal some more to a two-week vacation to Alaska by the city's finance director.

I wonder, does this mean no checks get written when the finance director takes a vacation?

The mayor said Wednesday a check "should be cut any day."

But he declined, when asked, to say exactly when that check would be issued.

Even if the mayor were to personally deliver a check today and apologize profusely to Mayo, I don't think he could make up for all the harm he has inflicted, from the misrepresentations he made, saying the recruit's grades were substandard when they weren't, to cite just one slur by the mayor, to the financial harm he's done to the young man's family.

The mayor's treatment of the first black firefighter hired by the city in more than 30 years has been shameful from beginning to end.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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