06/28/2010 05:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Commissioner To Embrace Older Black Firemen After Supreme Court Discrimination Suit

The Chicago Fire Department appears to have found its new commissioner in third-generation fireman Robert Hoff.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Hoff's appointment easily passed a City Council committee Monday on the strength of his answers about the CFD's discriminatory handling of the 1995 firefighters exam.

That year's test and the hiring that followed were challenged in a case that reached the Supreme Court this year. The test set a cut-off score of 64, below which applicants were deemed unqualified. But it also set a second cut-off of 89, and told those who had tested between 64 and 89 that they were very unlikely to be hired, given the number of exceptional scores above that cutoff.

A group of black applicants sued the city, claiming that the addition of the second cut-off amounted to racial discrimination. Only 11 percent of scorers in the highest group were black.

The city argued that the applicants had waited too long to file suit, and that the case should therefore be dismissed.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled in favor of the aspiring black firefighters, arguing that the technicality the city relied on was not valid and that the group should be allowed to sue for recompense.

Hoff, Mayor Daley's appointment for commissioner, said he would embrace the new firefighters, as the Sun-Times reports:

"The Fire Department is ready to put these people in school when we get the information needed from the Law Department. We're gonna go as a candidate class. It's gonna be positive," Hoff said.

The fact that some of those would-be firefighters are now in their late 40s is of no consequence to the new commissioner.

"I know firefighters who are 55 or 60 years old who can do a lot of work -- more than a 20-year-old. It just depends on your physical condition," said Hoff, 54.

Ordinarily, the Fire Department hires no one over the age of 38, but that rule won't be applicable in these cases because it wasn't in place in 1995.

Hoff said he hopes that the new firemen will help counter perceived and actual racism in the CFD, made visible most notoriously in 1990, when video from an Engine 100 retirement party showed firemen issuing ugly strings of racial slurs.

If approved by the full City Council, Hoff will replace John Brooks, an African-American who resigned this May amid investigations that a sexual harassment complaint against him was swept under the rug.