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Mayor Rahm Emanuel opens the new quarters for Engine Company 16 of the Chicago Fire Department in 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times File Photo

Rahm: Strength of CPS diversity behind hiring preference plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended his decision to give graduates of Chicago Public Schools a leg up on city jobs — including Chicago firefighters.

Chicago Firefighters Union President Tom Ryan has said the hiring preference has caused an “outcry” among the rank-and-file, many of whom are second- and third-generation firefighters and would like their own children to have the same chance.

Some members whose children attend parochial school are so incensed about the hiring preference, they’re threatening to file a lawsuit to stop the city from applying the preference on Chicago’s first firefighters entrance exam in a decade.



On Wednesday, Emanuel made it clear he has no intention of backing off from a plan that serves as an incentive for inner-city kids to stay in school and graduate.

“We have a very diverse city made up of a lot of people with talent. Part of the Shakman decree and getting us out from underneath that court-ordered supervision was [ending the day when] it was more important who you knew than what you knew,” the mayor said.

“I think we should make sure that kids who are graduating from CPS have a shot at working for the city and getting points for it is consistent with what we want to do because of the diversity of the city and the diverse talent in our city. That means the Police and Fire Departments are part of it.”

The mayor reminded reporters that his administration settled a marathon case stemming from the city’s discminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.

“There’s a whole genre of now-firemen because there was discrimination against African-Americans by the Fire Deparment. We settled it and we have a new class of African-American men and women now working in the Fire Department who, in the past, were restricted,” the mayor said.

“I want the CPS attendance…to be a credit so the diversity of the city — the strength of that diversity — is represented in the workforce.”

Two years ago, Chicago borrowed the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-American would-be firefighters bypassed by the city's discriminatory handling of a 1995 entrance exam. The borrowing compounded the cost of a settlement that was twice as high as anticipated.

The city had already agreed to hire 111 bypassed black firefighters. The cash damages went to about 5,900 others who never got that chance.