A big, rare loss for Michael Bloomberg this afternoon: The state education commissioner has conditionally rejected the mayor’s choice for city schools chancellor, Cathie Black. David Steiner may have simply been underwhelmed by Black’s publishing-industry résumé; his advisory panel, which voted against granting the necessary waiver, appears to have been embarrassed by having been portrayed in news stories as Bloomberg toadies.
Steiner is giving Bloomberg an out, however, saying he’d accept Black if she hires a top assistant who actually knows something about education. 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.