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FDNY chief relieved of duty after news report of power struggle at top of department

News coverage pits Chief James Leonard against 1st Deputy Commissioner Laura Kavanagh

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The headline above is from a New York Daily News article on Tuesday about a power struggle at the top of FDNY involving Chief of Department James Leonard and other top officials, including First Deputy Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. The headline today is below along with confirmation from FDNY that Chief Leonard has been relieved of his duties while an investigation is conducted into allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Ginger Adams Otis & Thomas Tracy , New York Daily News:

Chief of Department James Leonard, the top uniformed officer of the FDNY, has been relieved of his duties and put on modified assignment, a spokesman said Thursday.

The move came two days after the Daily News reported on allegations that Leonard was butting heads with many in the FDNY, including First Deputy Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, the lone woman at the top of the roster.

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The paragraphs below from Tuesday’s article seem to provide the meat of the allegations against Chief Leonard that have been made public. The report cites anonymous sources within FDNY:

His tendency to shout at and berate other chiefs in private and public has raised hackles — and his apparent deep dislike of First Deputy Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, the second-highest ranking civilian administrator in the department and the lone woman in the uppermost tier, is an open secret, sources said.

“You never know if you’re getting nice Jimmy or his other side — he’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said a source.
Leonard has been known to order staff to seat Kavanagh on the other side of the room from him at events and has allegedly told other chiefs to freeze her out of internal communications and report back directly to him — or else, sources told The News.

Leonard also once allegedly publicly upbraided a popular FDNY chaplain — who happens to be a woman and a lesbian — after the Gay Pride Parade in 2015 for an imagined infraction, sources said.

Kavanagh’s rise in the FDNY has nearly outpaced Leonard, and some say she’s making a power play of her own against him. She joined the department as a mayoral appointee in 2014 after working as a senior advisor on Mayor de Blasio’s election campaign — and enjoyed two rapid promotions thereafter to become one of Nigro’s top advisers.

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FDNY Chief of Department James Leonard & 1st Deputy Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh

For the record, the media watchdog site iMediaEthics has criticized New York Daily News and reporter Ginger Adams Otis for the article Tuesday about Chief of Department James Leonard. Sydney Smith focuses on how anonymous sources were used to criticize Chief Leonard. It’s clear New York Daily News did not adhere to the tougher standards in recent years that many top mainstream news media organizations use when citing anonymous sources, including: citing the number of sources; the connection the sources have to the information; the reason the sources are not speaking on the record. That said, the thrust of the original article appears to be accurate, with FDNY’s confirmation that Chief Leonard has now been relieved of duty pending an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior.

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