Less than five months into her controversial term as schools chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg has given the heave-ho to former Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black. In a press conference this morning, Bloomberg announced that her replacement would be Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, a former Board of Education president. The Times reported that Black, who was not present at the press conference, stepped down at Bloomberg’s “urging.” During the event, the mayor steadfastly refused to answer questions about Black herself. “We decided that it was time to move forward,” he said. “It is what it is.” When asked about whether the quick turnaround on Black was evidence that his third term was proving to be a blemish on his record, he replied: “I think we’re going to do more in the third term than we did in the second term, and the second term was better than the first term.”
Black was wildly unpopular among public-education advocates in New York, in large part because she lacked any experience in the field when Bloomberg brought her over from the private sector. She also failed to charm basically anybody. (Seriously.) But until today, Bloomberg staunchly defended her.
The decision, while viewed by some as a recognition of failure on Bloomberg’s part, was greeted positively by critics. Here are some sample reactions:
• “Walcott is Black’s mirror opposite. The anti-outsider. He has many good qualities, although he’s the last person in City Hall that you’d call a breath of fresh air,” writes Huffington Post New York editor Dan Collins. “Wolcott actually once taught in the city schools and he’s visited a billion of them. During the coronation press conference, Walcott promised the kids at P.S. 10 he’d still be there to cook them waffles next week as promised. He’s a good choice, given the circumstances.”
• Black’s “lack of experience wasn’t the killer; what really puzzled people was her lack of interest in public schools, period,” wrote the News’ Joshua Greenman. “To lead New York City’s public schools, you need firm footing in a range of issues from curriculum to teaching methodology to labor rights to child psychology to charter schooling. Black, appointed by a billionaire businessman, reeked of dilettante perfume.” Greenman hails the choice of Wolcott, a “far more competent reformer,” but thinks that the “damage is done.” Among reformers, Bloomberg “will no longer be trusted.”
• Media writer Jeff Bercovici observes that “the faults that turned her colleagues in government and the public against her — standoffishness, self-aggrandizement, a tendency to respond to every criticism with spin and wagon-circling, a pattern of rewarding loyalty rather than competence — were all on display during her tenure at Hearst for anyone who was looking.”
• Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was philosophical. “It’s not easy for a mayor to change course in such a big way when things are not working, and I want to commend Mayor Bloomberg for stepping up and recognizing this,” he said. “It’s been clear for months now that, like the Titanic, this ship has been sinking with more than one million school children on board.”
• “I have a longstanding working relationship with Dennis. I believe there will be no issues of transition here,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “He is articulate with the issues, he is articulate in the communities. … I believe he is someone who is going to restore a sense of calm.” Tisch believes he’ll be easy to work with, and Bloomberg was right to operate quickly and alone. “It will be very good that it’s not up in the air. If you’re asking me should the mayor have done a search … I would say no.”
• And apparently, they’re even heaving sighs of relief inside City Hall. “This is very good news,” one “mayoral insider” told the Post. “The fallout from the Black appointment just got so untenable.”
This post has been updated from its original version for clarity.