Playing Hardball: The Mayor, Joel Klein and Cathy Black in a World of Realpolitik.

 The government must not waiver once it has chosen it’s course. It must not look to the left or right but go forward. 
Otto Von Bismarck 
Politics is a full contact sport.
Barack Obama is probably our best educated president since Woodrow Wilson. A scholar of the first rank, adept at debating the nuances of complex policy issues, and, as a newly elected president reaches out across the political aisle and needs a rabies shot.
He can’t comprehend that it’s not the brilliance of his argument nor the data analysis, it all comes down to who knees whom in the cojones first.
From Jefferson exposing Hamilton’s affair with Mrs. Reynolds to accusing Jackson of being a bigamist and Lincoln a monkey, to James G. Blaine playing on Cleveland’s illegitimate child, in the real world of politics the rule is there are no rules. Rules are written by the winners.
It was never a question of if Joel Klein was leaving, it was only a question of when: he had outlived his usefulness, he had become bigger than the mayor.
The coup d’etat was sudden, Joel looked up at the dagger and cried “et tu Mr. Mayor.” Reminiscent of the Roman Senate one emperor was deposed with his successor ready to grasp the crown of laurel.
Some claim the mayor mishandled the leadership change, they argue the if the mayor had managed the process better he would have avoided the public outcry over the nomination of a candidate with no apparent qualifications.
I demur.
The mayor is exercising his power, making it clear to the citizens of Rome that he is emperor, a leader who has kept the city safe, has removed petty politics, a mayor neither republican not democrat, a mayor above the bickering of the forum, a mayor who uses his power for the public good, as he defines public good.
For a few days Cathy Black’s nomination was criticized in the NY Times and vilified by the enemies of Joel Klein and the mayor.  Thousands of names and growing on a petition, a dozen City Council members introduce antagonistic legislation and a handful of state legislators express their displeasure.
The teacher union passes a resolution criticizing the process and UFT President Mulgrew, on WNYC took a “wait and see” attitude.
The Black acolytes roll out former mayors and Oprah and whisper that if electeds support the mayor’s choice, maybe, just maybe, projects in their districts will move forward.
It is not a coincidence that the day after the union passes a resolution critical of the process the mayor announces 6100 teacher layoffs down the road, way down the road, the budget will not pass until mid-June.
The mayor does not take prisoners.
The decision, on the surface is whether or not Ms. Black’s experience qualifies her to be chancellor, in really the decision is whether you are in the mayor’s camp or not.
The decision is solely that of the State Commissioner, David Steiner.
Moments after the announcement I’m sure David called Meryl Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, and his patron.
“Meryl, what should I do?”
“David,” Meryl cooed, smiling slyly, “We have confidence you’ll do the ‘right thing’
Steiner will appoint a commission, a panel of educators and outside experts to analyze the mayor’s request for a waiver, examine Black’s qualifications in light of her experience and the two previous waiver approvals (Levy and Klein) and issue a non-binding recommendation.
Steiner can decide, “based upon a careful review by the panel of experts I am sustaining the recommendation of the panel,” pushing the responsibility onto the panel and shielding himself from the brickbats.
The mayor has lost some battles, (the West Side Stadium, Congestion Pricing), this time he is not dependent on a fickle state legislature, a pol he doesn’t control (Shelly Silver), just one man, David Steiner, makes the decision, the mayor is unlikely to lose.
A Cathie Black chancellorship will be carefully crafted by the mayor.
The Klein-appointed deputy chancellors can offer advice on day-to-day operations, the marching orders will come from Howard Wolfson, the mayor’s director of communications.
The mayor/chancellor can quickly tamp down the level of public antagonism: end the ATR pool, postpone most (not all) school closings, agree to review the Progress Reports with parent/union input, place a moritortium on charter school co-locations in public schools, express vague doubts about Duncan policies, and, always, always, laud teachers and parents.
Joe Williams and the guys at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) may rant and flail, they ran candidates against three anti charter legislators and lost each race overwhelmingly. An aide may say. “we don’t want to antagonize Joe Williams,” and the mayor, mirroring the famous Stalin quote, (“How many divisions has the Pope?”) may dismiss Williams and look instead to the teacher union who deposed a thirty year plus republican incumbent State Senator in a year of a republican landslide.
 We live in a world of realpolitik and the mayor is a superb practitioner. He has a year to both repair his relationship with the teacher union and public school parents and situate himself for whatever comes next.
Cathy Black is a pawn on the mayor’s chessboard.

8 responses to “Playing Hardball: The Mayor, Joel Klein and Cathy Black in a World of Realpolitik.

  1. If Commissioner Steiner were to approve a candidate possessing no credentials, he would forever lose the respect of the education profession, built through his reputation for prodigious scholarship over many years.

    The law is clear. Perhaps it could be stretched for a Klein, a NYC schools alum with years of experience in the public sector and at least some teaching experience, or Harold Levy, a member of the State Board of Regents and graduate of the Bronx HS of Science who was an well-known private sector advocate for the schools. But for Cathie Black? Because she has the support of Oprah?


  2. Retired- no more public enemy No. 1.

    Sadly, you are correct- the rules are indeed made up by the winners. The fact that kids, teachers, and our nation in general are the losers is unimportant, because a cursory reading of the NY Times shows you the two recent articles written by Kristof about “Banana Republics.”

    This entire country is preoccupied with shooting itself in the foot economically by worshiping the top one percent that receives twenty four percent of all income, by preoccupying itself with sports figures who earn a ton but cannot spell the word “ton,” and by preoccupying itself with the comings and goings and doings of actors, actresses, and celebrity criminals.

    In Florida, even more than in NYC, schools and “schoolteachers” are public enemy number 1. Science programs are being cut while the same districts vote to expand and improve already bloated sports programs for the zhlobs who will flip the burgers of tomorrow, and then go on to angrily vote against maintaining such “evils” as Social Security, Medicare, and so on. In their old age, they will serve as greeters in Wal-Mart, the very symbol of worker abuse.


  3. I think when a public figure as well known and important as Oprah decides to endorse the nominee for NYC Schools Chancellor the media is obligated to disclose that Cathie Black, chairperson of Hearst, helped create and publishes Oprah’s magazine – O. Then I can easily understand her endorsement and it puts it in an entirely different light. Likewise, it would be nice to know who the contributers are that turned so many members of Congress into multi-millionaires. Then we might better understand the positions they take adversely impacting the lives of “ordinary”, hard working people.


  4. Great post, will now visit site on a regular basis 😀


  5. Well done.


  6. Bloomberg is a miserable failure as mayor who only “wins” elections by buying them. He should retire and move to Florida already.


  7. The mayor wants to get rid of teachers who are of a certain age. Meanwhile,he wants to make the boss of the school system a person who is sixty-six.


  8. From ‘Gothamist’:

    “But Bloomberg sent the panel a warning, saying that if they didn’t appoint Black they will literally not be able to find anyone else to do the job. Anywhere. Forever. He asked, “How would you get somebody else? I don’t know what you’d do if you didn’t [get the waiver]…I don’t know why anybody would come if you didn’t do this.” Yes, why would any educator apply now that they know Bloomberg is looking for business moguls?”

    The business of corruption.


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