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Bloomberg picks 40-year veteran to head Fire Dept.

Staying in-house, Mayor Michael Bloomberg Monday named a 40-year veteran who has held every post in the fire department to be its new commissioner.

The choice of Salvatore Cassano ended a nationwide search that included two minority short-list candidates in a department that has been criticized for a lack of diversity.

At a City Hall news conference, Bloomberg introduced Cassano, 64, as the fire commissioner to replace Nicholas Scoppetta, who is retiring at the end of the year to pursue teaching opportunities. Cassano takes over the FDNY post Jan. 1.

Cassano's appointment is a change in direction from Scoppetta, who did not come from the FDNY's rank and file when he took the position in 2002, causing friction among some officers. The issue of race has surfaced within a department more than 90 percent white and currently battling a discrimination suit in federal court over entrance exams.

"Number one, I am not trying to make a statement," Bloomberg said responding to the first question. "What I am trying to do is to get the best people for New York City.

"In the end what convinced me was thinking about this department and what it does," Bloomberg said. "We are playing with people's lives here. This is not something that you can make a mistake and say well we'll get it right the next time."

Cassano, who lives on Staten Island, has held every rank in the department and was awarded five citations for bravery for rescuing people from burning buildings.

Cassano, born and raised in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, was promoted to the chief of operations, the third-ranking post, after 9/11 and has played a "crucial part" in rebuilding the department after the loss of 343 firefighters that day, Bloomberg said.

As the FDNY's chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed officer, since 2006, Cassano had faced mandatory retirement. The commissioner's position has no required retirement age.

A federal judge recently ruled that the city discriminated against blacks and Hispanics in entrance exams in 1999 and 2002.

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