Thursday, November 11, 2010

Black is Black...I Want My Baby Back

The verdict is now in on chancellor-designate Cathie Black-Mike Bloomberg has voted and she is undoubtedly the best person for the job. This is what's known as a majority of one. Daily Politics has the story: "Despite questions about whether magazine executive Cathie Black -- who has lots of managerial and media experience, but practically no track record in education -- should replace Joel Klein as Schools Chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg today stood firm on his choice."

Why is Black the best choice? it's all about management for Mike: "The chancellor's job is a management job. We have built an enormous, a great team of professional educators. We are spending $23 billion of the taxpayers' money every year. We have 135,000 people that work to provide education. If that isn't a management job -- this is one of the biggest management jobs in the country, maybe even arguably a more broad than that in the world. And you need somebody that really knows how to manage, and this woman does."

Talk about tunnel vision. But the mayor is right about one thing, we are spending $23 billion a year and that ain't chump change. But what Bloomberg fails to get-call it a trained incapacity-is that you don't only need an accountant/manager to head up this swollen enterprise. You also need someone with their own educational vision-and not someone who hasn't spent one minute of her life thinking about the educational needs of urban school children.

As for the kind of search process that the mayor went through for this appointment, we can only characterize it as an absolute joke-Bloomberg once again looks no further than his own social circle to find someone who he believes is qualified in spite of having not a single educational credential. The NY Times underscores the insularity of the mayor's perspective:

"Inexplicable as it may have seemed to outsiders, the secrecy around the search for someone to run the schools crystallized two tenets of the Bloomberg era: the mayor’s faith in the ability of business leaders to fix the ills of government, and his keen dislike of drawn-out public debates that might derail his agenda. And, in what has become a Bloomberg hallmark, the mayor relied on someone he knew through business and social networks, someone squarely in his comfort zone of wealthy and socially prominent Upper East Side residents, someone with whom he has shared many friends and colleagues, dinners and drinks."

And the tabloids think that this is okay? Even the reaction of the Speaker is way to accommodating here-as DP highlights: "But is she a good choice for chancellor? “Obviously, the way mayoral control works, and it's important and appropriate, is that the mayor gets to pick the chancellor and then the mayor is then held accountable. That's how the system works and I'm going to, you know, hopefully Cathie and I'll agree more than we disagree on educational issues, but you know, time will tell that."

That is a less than forthright stand here. We all know that the chancellor is chosen by the mayor under the current governance system-but that elides the fact that the mayor chose a person who lacks the basic statutory requirements for the job. Say something about that! And to say, as the Speaker does, "then the mayor is then held accountable," is to ignore the fact that the mayor is no longer accountable to the voters-if he really ever was.

The issue here, Madam Speaker, is that the new chancellor designate does not have the statutory credentials to hold the job-and if she's not up to the task, the entire school system can be set back for years. And the defense of the appointment by the mayor's front man lacks the ring of authenticity: "If many education stakeholders were hurt to be left out of the process, Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for intergovernmental affairs, defended the approach as crucial to avoid making Mr. Klein a lame duck. “The mayor felt strongly that had Joel announced he was leaving and engaged in a search at that point, the school system would have been destabilized,” he said. “You would have had a situation in which there was a lot of uncertainty. He doesn’t think you find the best people, when they are paraded in for interviews.”

Gee, we thought that the mayor loves a parade. But, seriously, what Wofson diminishes as a, "parade," is what most of us what call an interview process, one that allows for a full vetting of a wide range of potential candidates. That would have exposed the shallowness of the mayor's limited grasp and vision, however: "Instead, Mr. Bloomberg turned to someone he has known for many years, if not particularly well, a fellow media mogul whose social life and business interests cross-pollinate neatly with his own. Ms. Black and her husband, Thomas E. Harvey, a lawyer and avid Republican donor, are known for hosting Christmas parties in their exclusive Park Avenue building, where apartments go for at least $10 million, and current and former neighbors include Tom Brokaw and Lloyd C. Blankfein. Mr. Bloomberg and his girlfriend, Diana L. Taylor, are regulars at those soirees."

Now most of us don't attend soirees, so you can see just how narrow this search process was. The Times dramatizes this: "But Eric Nadelstern, the deputy chancellor for school support and instruction and a respected 39-year veteran of the city school system, said that if he was a candidate for the chancellorship, he did not know about it. “I’ve never actually had a conversation with anyone either asking me to consider it or, from my perspective, expressing interest in the position,” he said. Michelle Rhee, the education reformer who recently departed as chief of the Washington schools, did not respond to an e-mail on Wednesday, but several people close to her and Mr. Klein said she had not been interviewed."

How do you conduct a search for this job and not even talk to a world class educator like Michele Rhee? This is such a sham, one that is aided and abetted by the Pravda-like job that the NY Post is doing. That, as we would say, is no accident either: "Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Black, along with Mr. Klein and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, are regular attendees of the New York investment bank Allen & Company’s annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, the exclusive gathering each July of the country’s publishing elite."

What is now clearer than it has ever been, is that democracy has died in NYC. We now have a cohort of  wealthy elites know-it-alls acting in loco parentis for the rest of us-and it is really too bad that Al Sharpton has died, we'd have loved to see that old rascal go after the selection of a boarding school mama. Who is going to step up here and say that the emperor is unclothed?