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Unusual pick backfires on Bloomberg
Amid plummeting approval ratings, former publishing executive Cathie Black resigned Thursday as chancellor of New York City schools, one of the most high-profile posts in American education, after fewer than 100 days on the job.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wasted no time picking Mrs. Black's successor, tapping Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott for the post. Mr. Bloomberg said he and Mrs. Black agreed "it is in the city's best interest if she steps down as chancellor," telling reporters, "I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped."
But many outside observers think Mr. Bloomberg, in his third term as mayor, was anxious to cut his losses after support for his handpicked chancellor disintegrated.
"It was not a secret that [Mrs. Black] wasn't doing well," said Lee Miringoff, political science professor and director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. She "had become the issue," with the New York media increasingly focused on her gaffes and not on efforts to improve city schools.
In one widely cited example, Mrs. Black earlier this year joked that school overcrowding could be fixed with birth control. Those missteps, along with the fact that Mrs. Black, a former publisher of USA Today with no deep ties to the city, had no experience whatsoever in education, led to her departure, according to Mr. Miringoff.
A recent poll from Marist and NY1 News found that only 17 percent of New Yorkers approved of Mrs. Black's performance. Twenty-seven percent thought she was doing a poor job, according to the poll.
Mrs. Black, 66, the former president of Hearst Magazines, was named one of Forbes magazine's 100 most powerful women in 2008. She was a surprise pick to succeed former Chancellor Joel Klein, who carved out a national reputation as an education reformer in his eight-year tenure as head of the 1.1 million-pupil city school system.
Education and political blogs were abuzz Thursday as news of Mrs. Black's resignation spread. Matt Yglesias, a blogger at ThinkProgress.com, wrote that Mrs. Black was "almost comically, the opposite" of the type of person Mr. Bloomberg was expected to pick for the post, arguing that the city expected someone who "could soothe anxieties around race, class, neighborhood autonomy and instructional best-practices."
Another factor may have been Mrs. Black's inability to deal with the bright spotlight of the New York City media, Mr. Miringoff said.
"She wasn't well-versed in the New York media way. She didn't really get it," he said.
The initial reaction to hiring of Mr. Walcott, who attended the city's public schools in his youth, was largely positive.
Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, an alliance of city business leaders, said in a statement that Mr. Walcott's "interactions with parents, elected officials and other important constituencies have made him well-known and respected in communities across the city. He is a logical choice to finish the administration's job of improving city schools."
In his statement, Mr. Bloomberg said Mr. Walcott "has been part of every key educational policy decision of the administration."
But Mr. Miringoff said those comments raise an obvious question for the mayor.
"If Walcott is so great, why didn't you pick him in the first place?" he said.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said that the circumstances leading to Mrs. Black's resignation were specific to her case, and send no messages about whether choosing a newcomer to the education field is always a bad idea.
But since it was becoming obvious Mrs. Black was not working out, Mr. Casserly said he was "delighted" Mr. Bloomberg and his advisers decided to "cut bait quickly" and move forward.
"They deserve some credit for that," Mr. Casserly said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ben Wolfgang covers the White House for The Washington Times.
Before joining the Times in March 2011, Ben spent four years as a political reporter at the Republican-Herald in Pottsville, Pa.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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