Friday, November 19, 2010

Black Ops

The well orchestrated, concerted campaign effort, to get Cathie Black her waiver from State Ed is, in our view, inexorable-but we'd love to be proven wrong. Why it is unlikely, devolves from the massive resources that the mayor has at his disposal-and the folks who will sit up and beg when he whistles. The NY Daily News has this side of the story:

"Mayor Bloomberg's pick for new schools chancellor got the heavy-weight endorsement of Oprah Winfrey last night - the same day he asked the state to approve his pick.The talk show host's support is a sign of how hard City Hall is pushing back against Cathie Black's critics...After a week-long muted response, the Bloomberg administration yesterday tried to take control, rolling out a litany of backers - including former Mayors Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins and Ed Koch, state Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera (D-Bronx). The administration circulated a letter among business leaders and late in the day 91 of them endorsed Black.City Council members reported getting phone calls from deputy mayors, top aides and even from Black herself."

Does any one really think that David Steiner and his appointed panel of merry men and woman will withstand Bloomberg's onslaught? And it's not as if there is no precedent for a waiver denial-as Wayne Barrett has reported: "Richard Mills, the same state education commissioner who gave Joel Klein a waiver to become chancellor in 2002, denied another waiver application in 2003. The reasons cited in that 9-page denial letter will no doubt impact the decision now facing Mills' successor, David Steiner, who will soon decide whether Hearst heavyweight Cathie Black has the qualifications to lead the city school system.."

All of those cogent reasons for denying Ernest Hart his waiver to run the Yonkers schools are, as the say in mama loshon, "gornisht mit gornisht" when it comes to Cathie Black's Bloomberg exceptionalism-hey, the NY Post even uses the current budget crisis to argue for Black's waiver. So all of the big guns are being brought out, and it is hard to believe that Steiner will have  the cojones to stand up against the elitist onslaught.

Even Bloomberg critic, State Senator Carl Kruger, is supporting the waiver-as Liz reports: "Sen. Carl Kruger, a critic of both mayoral control of the NYC public school system and Mayor Bloomberg, has joined the ranks of Cathie Black boosters, urging state Education Commissioner David Steiner to approve a waiver so she can succeed outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein."

Kruger's position is, however, a nuanced one: "The Legislature has given the mayor virtual and unbridled control of the system. With that control comes the responsibility for its management,” Kruger wrote in a letter to Steiner..." Kruger, who voted against the unchecked and unvarnished mayoral control re-authorization bill, is really chiding his colleagues for their  lack of responsibility in insuring that there would be at least a modicum of oversight over the mayor's school rule. Now Kruger is saying, in the spirit of the late Johnny Most announcing another successful Sam Jones bank shot, "Too late!"

While we respect Kruger's position, we still believe that the Bloomberg appointment of Black-even more so then was with Klein-is an example of hubris that should be resisted, no matter how uphill a battle this might be. Barrett makes a solid point in this regard: "Beyond Klein's connections as a teacher and a student to public education, there is another reason his selection made better sense than Black's does now. Bloomberg had just been elected, a new mayoral control system has just passed the legislature, and Klein could look forward, at the age of 55, to a potential eight years of mastering and managing the system. Black, at 66, is making a wholesale career change with only three Bloomberg years to find her footing and leave a mark. It may not be possible for Steiner's panel to consider this very real difference in their statutory deliberations, but Mike Bloomberg should have."

And Black's profile in the NY Times this morning, does little to disabuse us of our sense that she is a poor choice: "She grew up sheltered and privileged, in a middle-class Irish enclave of Chicago at midcentury, attending Catholic schools and riding horses at a country club where blacks and Jews were not allowed." And the world of publishing-where she did no public service or government work-will not prepare her for what lies ahead in a scant three years (with the first year being an extensive and intensive learning curve).

There is simply nothing in Cathie Black's background that suggests even a passing acquaintance with public policy-any public policy: "But while Ms. Black, 66, has been a highly visible and celebrated corporate executive, she has rarely spoken out on the big issues of the day. Her civic engagement and philanthropic activity are scant beyond donating money to politicians and charities and inviting political figures like Mr. Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton and Cindy McCain to speak at Hearst functions."

But one can excuse Bloomberg for his sanguininity about Black, since he came into the mayoralty similarly ignorant of policy and unprepared for the challenge-an unpreparedness that has cost NYC in a number of ways we have commented on. And his tapping of her fits right into the mode of the patricianage that has characterized some of his high level appointments-particularly in the economic development area where a run of tone deaf Wall Streeters has ill-served the city's economic growth in the small business sector

All of which will, it seems to us, matter little once the Bloomberg juggernaut goes full throttle-as the Times highlights in another Black story: "Ms. Black’s outreach is part of a growing public-relations offensive from City Hall, which is determined to regain control of the intensifying debate over her surprise selection last week. Those close to Mr. Bloomberg asked three of his predecessors — Rudolph W. Giuliani, David N. Dinkins and Mr. Koch — to sign a letter backing her. Mayoral aides are also encouraging high-powered academic leaders from universities around the country to express their support for her. And they are pushing reliable allies in the business world to publicly embrace her nomination. A powerful group of chief executives in the city has begun circulating copies of a letter that calls on the state education commissioner to grant Ms. Black a waiver from the state law requiring that those who run school districts have certain education credentials and experience."

In eight years, Mike Bloomberg has pretty much done exactly what he wanted to do (with the exception of the Kingsbridge Armory defeat)-with very little blow back from any quarter. After all, getting the city council to over-turn term limits and still ride to victory in his third term bid, are the kinds of experiences suggestive of, if not omnipotence, at least something close to it.

So, while we certainly hope that the tide may have finally turned against mayoral hubris, we recall our father's sage advice; "Son, the race doesn't always go to the swift, but that's the way to bet."