Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

The folks are taking sides in the battle over the mayor's choice of a new schools chancellor-and it is beginning to look like a tale of two cities, with the mayor side representing NY"s business and cultural elites. City Room tells the tale: "Hoping to fend off skepticism about his choice for schools chancellor, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has turned to a familiar and reliable ally: the business community.
Encouraged by City Hall aides, the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of the city’s top 200 chief executives, has asked its members to rally behind Cathleen P. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, to be the next schools chief."

It would be extremely interesting-as well as instructive-to see how many of the Partnership's signees actually have kids in the public schools. The Bloomberg lobbying effort is taking on the characteristics of a remake of, "The Usual Suspects." And, unsurprisingly, the group enthusiastically promotes the mayor's business model: "The group asked its members on Tuesday to sign a letter (below) calling on the state education commissioner, David M. Steiner, to grant Ms. Black an exemption from rules requiring the chancellor to hold education credentials. A copy of the letter was obtained by The New York Times. “The skills she has developed are ones that are essential to running any large organization, whether in the private, public, or nonprofit sector,” the letter reads. “You would be hard-pressed to find a more qualified and more capable candidate than Cathie Black.”

When it comes to the Partnership and Mike Bloomberg, it is "home on the range time." We're still waiting for just a small peep of a discouraging word. And the Partnership's Kathy Wylde adds a homey female perspective to the debate: "Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said 75 business leaders had signed the letter as of Wednesday afternoon. She said Ms. Black would bring a “woman’s touch” to the chancellorship."

This is, of course, both bizarre and counter intuitive-everything that we have read about Cathie Black speaks to her tough mindedness; and we don't expect that she will be bringing brownies to the state ed commissioner, despite Wylde's verbal sleight of hand. The WSJ underscores this in its discussion of Black's decision to close down Tina Brown's Talk Magazine: "The 2007 book describes Ms. Black's 40-year trajectory from ad-sales assistant at a magazine to leading Hearst Magazines, where she was responsible for a stable of popular publications including Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping. In between, she ran USA Today. At the time of the Talk shutdown, the staff was halfway through the next issue, and "weeping staff members" asked if they could finish it. "It was very tough, but I had to say no," Ms. Black wrote. "Two more weeks of work meant two more weeks of costs." She asked: "Did the staff hate me that day? …Probably….But, unfortunately, life as an executive is about making tough decisions, not about being popular."

Some, "woman's touch!" Which brings us to the other side of the debate here, what we would call the second city-made up of the lower orders who can't seem to grasp the majesty of the mayor's world view.These are people who just can't see the incredible transformation that has been wrought by the Bloomberg/Klein regime.

The mayor characterizes these short sighted naysayers quite adroitly: "The people who are objecting would object to anybody that the mayor picked. They never liked mayoral control. They are never willing to admit that the school system is immeasurably better. They can't abide by the fact that Obama and his secretary, Arne Duncan, think we're the role model for what you should do with a public school system. We're setting the agenda for the country, and what we've got to do is seamlessly continue on."

This comes from a post at the Daily Politics titled, "Black has Proven Herself in the Real World." Which is apropos of the solipsistic way that the mayor sees reality. Clearly, someone who had years of experience in the world of education wouldn't, under this definition of reality, be a qualified candidate. This is brought home by the way in which Bloomberg waxes eloquent about Black's sterling resume: "She has an advanced degree that I don't know if very many people have ever had. You take a look at her resume. She's created an awful lot of jobs. One of the reasons we're here today is jobs, jobs, jobs. And she's managed an enormous budget, she's managed in a very difficult industry. This is a woman that has all of the credentials for this job."

All, that is, except for those that are required by statute. But let's hear from the peons. As Daily Politics tells us: "Thirteen City Councilmembers - mostly from Council’s “progressive caucus” -- lent their names to a resolution calling on state Education Commissioner David Steiner to veto Mayor Bloomberg’s choice for schools chancellor.

Whereas, While the New York City school system is complicated to manage, it cannot be run solely as a business, and we cannot forget that education should be about the children, their families and communities;” read the resolution introduced at today’s stated Council meeting.

“Whereas, The people of New York City want a Chancellor with experience, character and qualifications that are well suited for the education of children and not merely the management of a corporation; now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Council of the City of New York calls on the New York State Education Commissioner to deny Cathleen P. Black a waiver to become the next Chancellor of the New York City public school system.”

We particularly liked the characterization of the Black appointment as, "social promotion for the elite." It fits right in with our concept of patriciange. The speaker, for her part, had a clever riposte to the challengers: "Quinn added that the appointment “is an example of how mayoral control works. The mayor gets to make the choice of who the schools Chancellor is and that is how the process works. You know, when we were talking renewal of Mayoral Control many of us thought it would have been - should have been - better as municipal control. That would not have taken away the mayor’s right to then appoint a commissioner but it would have put the Council in a lot more aggressive oversight position in the Department of Education but this is how Mayoral Control works. They mayor gets to pick the Chancellor.”

Yes, "municipal control," would have been a much better idea because it would have created a system of checks and balances-a new concept of governance that the mayor is discomfited by. But Quinn, in our view, is only partially correct since there is one check on the mayor's absolute and unfettered control over the choosing of a chancellor-and that happens when the candidate lacks the statutory requirements and must receive a waiver from the commissioner of education.

Since that review process is in place, we're wondering why the speaker doesn't speak to it-and suggest to David Steiner whether Cathie Black is the right person to lead the city's 1.1 million school kids. She is being too clever by half with her besides the point history of the failure to achieve municipal control-and uses it as a dodge from actually having to take a stand against Hizzoner.

Well, others are less reticent-and we'll give CM Lew Fidler the last word: "Who is going to explain to her what goes on in a public school room between 9-3," asked Fidler. "She didn't go herself. She didn't send her kids. Her only experience is with charter schools and that is minimal. The arrogance of the appointment is unbelievable." Added Fidler, "I served on the board of a Catholic high school for two years. That doesn't qualify me to be the Pope."