FDNY Boss' Career Clouded After 2 Deaths

Updated: 08-29-2007 09:40:10 AM

Associated Press Writer


Twice in the last 11 years, Nicholas Scoppetta was summoned by the New York mayor and asked to command a city agency in crisis.

Scoppetta, who was once a child in the city's foster-care system, was brought in to overhaul the former Child Welfare Administration in 1996. Five years later, he was tapped to run the fire department after the World Trade Center terrorist attack that killed 343 firefighters.

His six-year run as FDNY commissioner was in question this week, when Scoppetta endured pointed public attacks and heard calls for his resignation after a blaze in a long-abandoned skyscraper killed two firefighters near ground zero.

The fire led to the reassignment of three fire officials and drew harsh criticism from Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the FDNY's failure to conduct required inspections at the former Deutsche Bank building.

Scoppetta, whose record of public service began decades before he became the city's 31st fire commissioner, came to the fire department with an impeccable reputation earned in a variety of high-profile positions.

"I'm a big fan of Nick," said Gail B. Nayowith, executive director of the Citizens' Committee for Children, who worked with Scoppetta when he ran the Administration for Children's Services. "He's willing to do work nobody else wants to do. He's committed to the city of New York."

Scoppetta spent time as a city and federal prosecutor, becoming best known for a stint with the Knapp Commission into police corruption. Scoppetta convinced Detective Robert Leuci to go undercover against his fellow cops, a blockbuster case that led to the book and movie "Prince of the City."

Scoppetta also joined Mayor John Lindsay's administration as its commissioner of investigation and later served as deputy mayor for criminal justice under Mayor Abraham Beame.

"Scoppetta is a career civil servant of hitherto sterling reputation," said a New York Post editorial that nevertheless called for Scoppetta to resign from the FDNY. "He's a gentleman and he deserves better than to end his career under a cloud."

Scoppetta's ascent to the head of the Administration for Children's Services under Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought his life full circle. The youngest son of Italian immigrants, he and two brothers were turned over to the city's care by their financially struggling parents.

Eight years later, the family was reunited.

Scoppetta was called in to launch a new agency replacing the long-inept Child Welfare Administration after the 1995 death of 6-year-old Eliza Izquierdo, who was tortured and killed by her mother in a case that created a firestorm of headlines and criticism.

Scoppetta announced just five days before 9/11 that he was stepping down, and he left the job to generally positive reviews.

Scoppetta, 75, was a surprise choice when Bloomberg brought him in as Fire Commissioner in December 2001.

While his first year was devoted to funerals and memorial services, Scoppetta turned his attention elsewhere as he settled into the job. In early 2004, he announced a crackdown on the culture of drinking within the FDNY after a drunken New Year's Eve brawl in a Staten Island firehouse.

Earlier this year, Scoppetta promised to bolster treatment for 9/11 firefighters afflicted with trade center-related illnesses. And he's championed efforts to bring more diversity to a department that's roughly 90 percent male and white.

Scoppetta, like his predecessors, feuded with union leadership. Uniformed Firefighters Association head Steve Cassidy and his executive board issued a vote of no confidence against Scoppetta in 2004, blasting the commissioner over reductions in staffing.

And after Bloomberg announced the FDNY shake-up on Monday, Cassidy ripped the move as "a knee-jerk reaction to divert attention from the fire commissioner's failed leadership."

Bloomberg has not publicly criticized Scoppetta, who said he has no intention of stepping down.