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L.A. mayor names black fire chief amid race furor December 5, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in African Americans, African-American, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, firefighter.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, trying to extinguish a furor over charges of racism and sexism in the city’s fire department, on Monday named a black officer as interim fire chief.

Douglas Barry, a 31-year veteran, will take over January 1 and become the first black man to head the Los Angeles Fire Department.

He replaces William Bamattre, who announced his retirement last week amid political pressure over a black fireman who sued the city because he was served dog food in his firehouse spaghetti.

Barry was expected to head the department for as long as a year while Villaraigosa, who was roundly criticized by many blacks for vetoing a settlement in the dog food case, conducts a nationwide search for a permanent chief.

“I have agreed to serve as an interim, but my aim is to make permanent results,” Barry, 53, said at a press conference. “I know that we can stop hazing and horseplay. I know that we can address the department’s history of discrimination and exclusion.”

Villaraigosa called Barry “a man for the hour” and the mayor was clearly hoping that the appointment of a black chief would help knock down public outcry over the lawsuit by 19-year department veteran Tennie Pierce.

Pierce sued after fellow firefighters slipped dog food into his spaghetti as a prank in 2004. The case attracted little notice until the City Council voted this month to pay him $2.7 million — one of the largest settlements in city history for a fire department discrimination claim.

The huge payout, which also would have allowed Pierce, 53, to retire and collect a lifelong department pension worth roughly half his annual salary, triggered an uproar.

Villaraigosa vetoed the settlement after a pair of KFI-AM talk-radio hosts, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou obtained pictures of Pierce engaging in a series of fire station pranks — in one instance apparently helping to shave the genitals of a firefighter who was bound to a gurney.

Some of Pierce’s former colleagues described him as a known prankster who went by the nickname “Big Dog.”

After Pierce made a tearful appearance at City Hall, three black members of the council led a move to overturn Villaraigosa’s veto but fell short. The case is now headed for trial in March.

C.a.r.d {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: Reuters

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