Posted on July 1, 2009

Was He the Culprit?

Paul Bass, New Haven (Connecticut) Independent, June 29, 2009

Three of the Supreme Court justices who voted against New Haven in Monday’s landmark firefighters case ruling zeroed in on one character they saw playing a nefarious role: the Rev. Boise Kimber.

In fact, Kimber’s role as a New Haven politico, felon, and FOJ (Friend of John, Mayor DeStefano) ended up sparking a lively debate between the Supreme Court’s conservative and liberal wings.

This is the latest in a two-decade-long saga of how Kimber (pictured below) has caused political headaches for DeStefano while receiving repeated political plums from the mayor, including a controversial “consulting” housing contract that figured prominently in a 1998 City Hall corruption scandal.

DeStefano in turn has relied on the Newhallville preacher to carry his banner in the black community in pivotal Democratic mayoral primaries dating back to his 1989 contest against John Daniels and his 2001 race against Martin Looney.

At issue in Monday’s Supreme Court decision was whether Kimber is Exhibit A for how crude racial politics trumped merit and fairness in the case of the “New Haven 20.”


Justices Samuel Alito singled out Kimber in a concurring opinion to Ricci v. DeStefano, the case in which a 5-4 majority ruled that New Haven can’t ignore the results of a fire department promotional exam just because no African-Americans scored high enough.

From the start, the New Haven 20–the one Hispanic and 19 white firefighters who sued to have the exams’ results honored–argued that New Haven’s DeStefano administration scuttled the test because of political pressure. And they specifically mentioned Kimber in their lawsuit. Rev. Kimber, a prominent vote-puller for Mayor DeStefano in past elections, sits on the Board of Fire Commissioners. He played a vocal role at the Civil Service Commission in arguing to have the test results ignored.

Alito, in an opinion also signed by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, noted that “even the District Court” (the lower court that ruled on behalf of the city in this case) “admitted that ‘a jury could rationally infer that city officials worked behind the scenes to sabotage the promotional examinations because they knew that, were the exams certified, the Mayor would incur the wrath of [Rev. Boise] Kimber and other influential leaders of New Haven’s African-American community.”

The opinion proceeds to present a three-paragraph attack bio of the good reverend, going back decades over terrain familiar to Kimber’s New Haven critics.

“Reverend Boise Kimber, to whom the District Court referred, is a politically powerful New Haven pastor and a self-professed “kingmaker.’ . . . On one occasion, ‘[i]n front of TV cameras, he threatened a race riot during the murder trial of the black man arrested for killing white Yalie Christian Prince. He continues to call whites racist if they question his actions.’

“Reverend Kimber’s personal ties with seven-term New Haven Mayor John DeStefano (Mayor) stretch back more than a decade. In 1996, for example, Mayor DeStefano testified for Rev. Kimber as a character witness when Rev. Kimber–then the manager of a funeral home–was prosecuted and convicted for stealing prepaid funeral expenses from an elderly woman and then lying about the matter under oath . . . ‘Reverend Kimber has played a leadership role in all of Mayor DeStefano’s political campaigns, [and] is considered a valuable political supporter and vote-getter.’ According to the Mayor’s former campaign manager (who is currently his executive assistant), Rev. Kimber is an invaluable political asset because “[h]e’s very good at organizing people and putting together field operations, as a result of his ties to labor, his prominence in the religious community and his long-standing commitment to roots.’

“In 2002, the Mayor picked Rev. Kimber to serve as the Chairman of the New Haven Board of Fire Commissioners (BFC), ‘despite the fact that he had no experience in the profession, fire administration, [or] municipal management . . . In that capacity, Rev. Kimber told firefighters that certain new recruits would not be hired because “‘they just have too many vowels in their name[s].’ . . . After protests about this comment, Rev. Kimber stepped down as chairman of the BFC . . . but he remained on the BFC and retained ‘a direct line to the mayor.'”


High Court Ignores the Greater Good

Jesse Jackson, Real Clear Politics, June 30, 2009

New Haven, Conn., is a city in which African Americans and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of the population; yet, by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, the city must be served–“as it was in the days of undisguised discrimination–by a fire department in which members of racial and ethnic minorities are rarely seen in command positions.”

Today’s ruling is deeply flawed and should not be the law of the land.


What has bedeviled us these last 30 years since Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke is the notion that any pen-and-paper test can reveal everything you need to know in order to assess a candidate’s ability to lead. And so we persist with the legal fictions that every qualification can be numerically assessed and that history counts for nothing.

The decision does not address the big questions about affirmative action, namely: How much may white employees be inconvenienced in order to rectify centuries of past discrimination? When, if ever, is it appropriate to use affirmative action to create a diverse workplace?

Affirmative action is justified on the premise that diversity is good for us as a society, not that diversity rectifies centuries of wrongdoing. Our penchant for rugged individualism and laissez-faire survival of the fittest seduces us into believing that every person is entitled to every benefit society has to offer and that no individual should pay a price for the greater good of the society as a whole.

{snip} Surely New Haven could have devised a test or selection device, without a similarly undesirable racial effect, that also served the employer’s legitimate interest. Undoubtedly, a critical mass of white firefighters would have scored well enough on such a test to be promoted. But the court today decides that no white person need suffer any inconvenience to produce a fairer workplace.

This reasoning depends on a hyperindividualistic interpretation of American rights. Blacks were enslaved as a group. They were segregated as a group. They were held in economic and political subjugation in the South for decades following Reconstruction as a group. But now that we have reached the enlightened 21st century, remedies for these crimes cannot take the group stigma against blacks into account. {snip}

Perhaps it is time to scrap the entire legal analysis of voluntary efforts to address discrimination. Perhaps we should permit employers and schools to devise plans to foster inclusion that straightforwardly account for past discrimination.