Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pride and Processed

The old saw the pride goeth before the fall, was reaffirmed yesterday when Mike Bloomberg's chancellor appointee, Cathie Black, was unceremoniously nixed by State Ed Commissioner David Steiner: "In a stinging rebuke, the panel unexpectedly gave a thumbs-down Tuesday to granting a waiver so that media exec Cathie Black could lead the city schools."

In today's NY Daily News, Adam Lisberg zeroes in on the cause of the unexpected downfall: "Mayor Bloomberg doesn't mind picking a fight. But after nine years in office, he should have learned to pick his battles. He has famously tried - and failed - to build a West Side football stadium, charge tolls into lower Manhattan and turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a huge shopping center. There was no shame in those losses, though. No matter what you thought of them, they were legitimate ideas with solid backing that deserved a hearing. Trying to put a magazine executive in charge of the city schools is a different story."

Well, since we were involved in two of those defeats, we might be inclined to raise their profile and significance-however, we do happen to agree with Lisberg that the current defeat has much greater import: "Bloomberg may have been the only person in New York who didn't see a downside in naming Cathie Black to be schools chancellor." And therein lies the problem.

Bloomberg has become so full of himself that, like the lawyer who represents himself, he has a fool for a client. Michael Goodwin in the NY Post goes straight to the arrogant Achilles Heel: "Memo to Mayor Bloomberg: Check the mirror. Your comment after a round of golf that President Obama is "the most arrogant man" you ever met is boomeranging. Many New Yorkers are saying the same thing about you because of your recent behavior. Picking Cathie Black to run the schools was sure to raise eyebrows, but your claim to have conducted a "public search" is provably false. The unforced error undercut Black and contributed to the advisory panel's recommendation that she not get the job."

Precisely so-it was more the process than the actual qualifications-or lack thereof-of the surprising choice that submarined the mayor. It revealed him as nothing he's done before. Lisberg underscores this argument: "Bloomberg's inner circle could have told him that - had he bothered to tell them about Black before he made up his mind. "He went into this by himself, and in fact it was revealed that the emperor had no clothes," said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio. The mayor's team could have quietly reached out to state Education Commissioner David Steiner to see how he would react, or to at least give him an early heads-up. Instead, the aides who get paid to build support for his controversial ideas - like lifting the charter school cap or extending term limits - were playing defense from the start."

All of which makes the bleatings of the Bloomberg editorial claque satisfyingly laughable. First the disappointed Post-lashing out at the old guard scapegoat: "The old guard of the city's educational establishment -- the people who turned New York's schools into places for everything but learning -- won a big one yesterday. The biggest losers are the kids themselves -- and the city at large. A so-called "rubber stamp" panel, appointed by state Education Commissioner David Steiner to evaluate Chancellor-designate Cathleen Black, voted to deny her the imprimatur she needs to take charge of the school system."

So, let's get this straight. The entire educational establishment that blasted Steiner's panel as a, "rubber stamp," managed to suborn all of those folks in a 24 hour span to act in its behalf? But forgive the Post for its emotional pain, after all, the Black rejection is as much a slap in the Post's face as it it is a comeuppance of the mayor.

And then there's Morticia's geshrie of outrage over at the News-demanding that Steiner overrule his own panel: "Steiner apparently believes that a chancellor must have more than the high managerial talent Black has shown throughout her career. In his view, further schools credentialing - as bogus a sole criterion as you can imagine - is a must."

Now we don't believe that credentials are the sine qua non of  the qualification to be chancellor, but to argue that Steiner feels that having educational experience is a sole criterion misreads the widespread view that that Steiner reflects: Black's background was so devoid of connection to public education and public service that the appointment is way too risky-especially by someone who is in his lame duck term.

But the Post and News are simply continuing their public disservice in regards to all things educational. Having hyped the Kleinberg regime to blimp-like proportions, both papers went into full damage control when it was determined that the edifice was constructed on sand. They still, however, persist to this day in over hyping the departing chancellor's achievements. A more sober assessment of the entire educational reform effort awaits-and will likely not be forthcoming until Bloomberg departs the municipal stage.

The current debacle, though, is monumental-and goes further in blackening the mayor's reputation than anything else he has done in nine years. But the final act has yet to be played-as NY Magazine points out: "The next move is Bloomberg’s, and none of them are easy. He could elevate one of the “pedagogical experts” he says Black would have leaned on anyway — but that would essentially admit that Black is a figurehead and not the “visionary” Bloomberg had touted. He could refuse to install a No. 2 who’s a real educator and have Steiner reject Black, leaving the school system rudderless — not likely. Bloomberg could withdraw Black’s application and admit defeat — even less likely. Or Black could back out, saving some face but leaving the mayor to start over. My wagering, however, is that Bloomberg, through intermediaries, spends the next several days trying to get Steiner to change his mind or put some time limit on the Black-helper. And if Steiner doesn’t budge, Joel Klein may need to ask Rupert Murdoch for an extension on that new job."

One thing is sure, however, There will be a million promi$es made in the next forty eight hours, as Mike Bloomberg pulls out all stops to salvage his nominee and his reputation. Unfortunately, the Fat Lady has yet to sing.