The Nominated Chancellor of the Largest School System in America Has ‘No Governmental, Political, or Diplomatic Expertise’

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Photo: Joe Kohen/WireImage

The quoted phrase above describes the box that Coca-Cola left unchecked when they listed Cathleen Black, the nominated chancellor of the city school system, as a member of their board. The Times dispatched a journalistic SWAT team of fourteen reporters to uncover information about her, and they basically discovered she's a powerful woman in a stylish gray flannel power suit. Here's what we learned:

She likes taxis and bling. Apparently, while she ran Hearst, she made her name by "riding in yellow cabs rather than black limousines." But she also lent a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet that she owned to a Manhattan museum exhibit on the jewels and clothing of the city's most influential women.

She may in fact be the Superman we've been waiting for. At least Atoosa Rubenstein thinks so. “She’s the closest thing to Superman that exists,” the founder of CosmoGirl said. “Cathie is kind of a Bill Clinton character: If you’re with her and if you’re in conversation with her, nothing else matters," added a college classmate of Black.

She is a youngest child. Her siblings Jack and Susan both live outside Chicago, the city where the three of them grew up and rode horses at a country club that accepted the Blacks, but not blacks or Jews.

She was not a straight-A student. But she did travel the world during college, before she graduated and moved to the Upper East Side to sell ad space for magazines.

She and Gloria Steinem aren't very similar. In the seventies, Black worked as the publisher of Ms. Her "tailored suits stood out amid the editors’ blue jeans and wild hair." She kept Gloria Steinem from misbehaving during sales meetings and made her focus. They got in a fight when Steinem didn't want to take an ad from Virginia Slims with their slogan "you've come a long way, baby." Black wanted a small ad, and in her 2007 memoir she grumbled that the decision not to go big cost the company "untold millions."

She scares the @&#%! out of people. She sounds like a charming, female Larry Summers, intimidating whole offices and willing to cut people off:


[M]any people say they felt that she was judging more than their work. “You feel she is making very strong, intuitive decisions about you with every word you speak,” said another woman who worked under her.


“Nice shoes,” Ms. Black told one woman who showed up for a second job interview, before adding, “You wore them the last time.”


Tom Brokaw, who lives a couple floors below her duplex penthouse on Park Avenue, regularly sees her working out with a personal trainer at dawn in their basement gym. “I get the impression that there are not idle moments in her life,” he said.

She throws great parties. They include "a 50th birthday bash under a tent in her Washington backyard attended by the Quayles; her 60th at a rented villa in Tuscany, with 75 relatives and friends; and the annual pre-Thanksgiving fete that brings 100 or more of Manhattan’s boldfaced names to the penthouse."

And she doesn't seem to have a strong interest in politics. Well, until she was anointed last week. And that's about it!

A Trailblazer With Her Eye On The Bottom Line [NYT]