the anti-jerk

Dennis Walcott Is Virtually the Anti–Cathie Black

The New York Times has a detailed, lengthy, and flattering profile of Dennis Walcott in Sunday’s paper, describing the new city schools chancellor as lots of things that former chancellor Cathie Black never quite seemed to be: experienced, humble, and just plain nice. The paper describes Walcott’s long career in city education and describes Black’s tenure as “a disastrous experiment.” Whereas Black has noted her predilection for designer outfits, Walcott’s former nickname, the Times reports, was “Dirt,” a result of his fearlessness in the mud during tackle football. Whereas Black came from the glamorous world of magazines, Walcott is a former kindergarten teacher from Queens. Note the contrasts. Anyway, here are some facts gleaned from the story, all of which make Walcott seem like an incredibly likable and well-intentioned guy. His only flaw, the paper says, might be that he’s just too nice.

He Has Fond Memories of His Childhood. “Backyard baseball with a tree stump for home plate. Trombone in the school orchestra. Biking down the street under the watchful eyes of friendly neighbors. It was Leave It to Beaver, but black, to hear Mr. Walcott describe his childhood in the Addisleigh Park section of southeast Queens.”

He Eats Salads for Lunch. “Mr. Walcott abruptly changed his diet, cutting out things he thought might bring on the diabetes that had stricken many of the men in his family. These days he avoids red meat and seldom eats anything but a salad for lunch. He once favored Old Grand-Dad and colas, but now rarely touches alcohol and does not smoke.”

He Married His Childhood Sweetheart. “In 1977, he married Denise St. Hill — they had met as young children and reconnected by chance at a party — just as he started working at a foster-care agency in Manhattan as part of a master’s program in social work.”

He’s Proudly “Working Class.” “In January 2002, Mr. Walcott arrived in City Hall as an odd man out: he was one of few minorities and barely knew Mr. Bloomberg. He wore his differences with pride, sometimes calling himself the ‘working-class deputy mayor.’”

He Is Quietly Ambitious. “Dina Paul-Parks, a former aide, said Mr. Walcott was often misjudged. ‘Dennis is so laid-back that sometimes people tend to think that he is a bit of a wallflower,’ she said. ‘He actually has very, very strong opinions and feels passionately about these issues.’”

He Was Unfairly Overlooked for Black’s Job the First Time, and He Knew She Had to Go. “The appointment of Ms. Black was contentious, even inside City Hall. The mayor consulted with virtually no one in his administration before naming her, and Mr. Walcott declined to say whether his input had been sought. But when Ms. Black seemed unable to grasp basic issues three months into her tenure, Mr. Walcott was part of a small circle of advisers who told Mr. Bloomberg that her chancellorship could not be salvaged.”

Overall, Walcott’s painted as the smart and diligent guy who was unwisely passed over in favor of the well-connected lady who wears furs and cracks jokes. Unless you prefer the latter, according to the Times, you can pretty much feel like Walcott’s appointment has the potential to right a wrong. So far, at least.

In New York’s Schools Chief, a Knack for Quiet Conciliation [NYT]

Dennis Walcott Is Virtually the Anti–Cathie Black