Los Angeles Mayor Replaces Senior Black Official, Raising Diversity Concerns

As fire chief Brian Cummings announced his retirement, some in Los Angeles are calling for increased diversity in the new mayor’s administration.

Posted: 10/11/2013 06:02 PM EDT

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has replaced one of his administration’s senior African-American officials amid concerns over the city’s emergency rescue operations. But the decision has also aroused concerns about the relatively new mayor’s commitment to African-Americans in top positions in his administration.

Brian Cummings, the city’s fire chief, announced his retirement on Thursday after more than a year. When he took the position, the department was the center of controversy after it revealed that its figures on response times were inaccurate and slower than initially reported.

Still, some have questioned whether it was necessary to replace Cummings, particularly because he is one of few African-American officials in the administration of Garcetti, who took office in July.

"It is always, at least in our mind, something we don't take lightly," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. "We do not, as a representative group, have a significant number of African-Americans in a position of decision-making."

The mayor’s office said it would place as acting fire chief James Featherstone, head of the city's Emergency Management Department. Featherstone, who will take over next month, is a former fire department captain and is also African-American.

In the contentious race for mayor of Los Angeles, Garcetti lost the African-American vote by a significant margin, according to an exit poll by Loyola Marymount University. The mayor won the election by 8 percentage points defeating Wendy Greuel. However, he lost the African-American vote by more than 35 percentage points.

Some Black elected officials contend that Garcetti should assemble the management he wants, but that it needs to include all components of the city.

“The mayor certainly wants to build his own team, as any mayor would,” said Reggie Jones-Sawyer, an Assemblyman whose district includes portions of Los Angeles, speaking with BET.com.

“But it’s important that the new mayor selects a team of diverse, qualified people and that those selections include African-Americans,” Jones-Sawyer said. “He needs to find his own group of African-American leaders as partners in pursuing his agenda.”

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(Photos from left: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images, David Livingston/Getty Images)

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