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Friday, November 26, 2010

Tone Deaf Mayor Turns Cathie Black Appointment into a Public Relations Train Wreck


If the recent uproar over Cathleen Black's appointment as NYC Schools Chancellor has shown anything, it has been the growing tone deafness of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The man who once ran roughshod over the city's term limits laws and then quite literally had to buy his way into a third term subsequently promised not to fall into the historical trap of third term ineffectuality. Yet he is now wearing out his welcome at an accelerating pace, doubling down on bad decisions and lashing out at everyone who disagrees with him. Well known for lacking the common touch, the Mayor has never seemed more distant from everyday New Yorkers and more tin-eared in his behavior.


The Mayor’s most recent spate of tone deafness began with his behind-closed-doors decision to appoint an unqualified magazine publishing executive to replace outgoing schools chancellor Joel Klein. Ms. Black was personally light years removed in almost every possible way to the lives of most public school parents: never attending a public school, sending her children to boarding school, never demonstrating the slightest interest in the issues surrounding public education during her professional career, owning houses on Park Avenue, rural-gentry Connecticut, and Southampton, sitting on a charter school board (whose meetings she had never yet attended) chaired by Rupert Murdoch, socializing with Oprah, having baby showers hosted by Marilyn Quayle, birthday parties in Tuscany, and so forth.


Even Ms. Black’s experience as a business executive felt tainted, far, far away from a real bricks and mortar, unionized, multi-site, multi-layered operation. And then there were those magazines: Cosmopolitan? O Magazine? Seventeen? Redbook? Town & Country? THIS was going to be the leader of our children’s schools? Still, all of these shortcomings might have easily been overlooked had Ms. Black offered the least educational or even just public sector experience. Her main qualification thus ended up looking like it was being a cocktail circuit friend of the Mayor’s.


The Mayor reacted almost immediately to the initial blowback on his choice by foolishly claiming he had conducted a public search and that Cathie Black was the best choice. Of course, no alternate candidates could be found, and even the normally stuffy NY Times did a tongue-in-cheek, online search (here and here) for anyone who would say they had been interviewed for the position. Incredibly, the only person who claimed to have been consulted about the new chancellor was Geoffrey Canada, the publicity-seeking-missile whose charter school advocacy is, for many New Yorkers, at the heart of their distaste for what they see as the Mayor’s destructive education policies. Mr. Canada’s input was hardly a soothing consolation, and he was quickly disappeared from the scene. Still, the Mayor’s people were fast losing control of the public conversation even as the Mayor was making demonstrably false assertions about “the process. “


Ms. Black herself only amplified the sense that the entire selection process was a cavalier handout from the Mayor to a social acquaintance. She refused to speak publicly or be interviewed, and then reversed herself for a single interview with the lighter-than-air Cindy Adams (simultaneously reinforcing a growing host of unseemly interconnections among Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein, Ms. Black, and the Mayor). With Ms. Adams, Ms. Black positively gushed over how she had accepted the position after an hour’s breakfast chat with the Mayor and how her stomach had done flip-flops over the idea. Like Sarah Palin, Ms. Black suggested that she never blinked, never considered her lack of qualifications, never thought that the lack of public process would be the least bit objectionable. The story line looked more and more like “Mr. Tone Deaf Chooses Ms. Tone Deaf for Schools Chancellor.”


By now, the Mayor was well down the road to an absolute public relations train wreck. Within days after foisting an unqualified candidate on the parents of 1.1 million school children, he was publicly scolding the citizens of NYC for their opposition, asserting that they simply did not understand the true nature of the Schools Chancellor's job. His staff and PR machine fell in line, lashing out at the UFT and "the opponents of mayoral control" who, by inference, would attack anything the mayor did with schools and anyone he chose to lead the schools. Never in any of these verbal volleys and rationalizations were children mentioned by the "children first" mayor.


As public opinion gelled against Ms. Black, the Mayor’s PR machine went into high gear. They trotted out whatever supporters for Ms. Black they could muster: Gloria Steinem, Rudy Giuliani, Oprah, Ed Koch, Ms. Black’s husband’s employer (IIE), the presidents of her and/or her husband’s alma maters, and David Dinkins, among others. Perhaps the intent was to influence or pressure Commissioner Steiner, but the voices of this group of Cathie Black supporters were irrelevant to the citizenry. The Mayor could not muster a single supporter whose voice actually mattered to regular people when it came to their children’s education.


Ever one not to look for a second foot to stick in his mouth, the Mayor spoke out again, comparing Joel Klein to a pitcher who had just gone seven (very rocky) innings and Ms. Black to a “closer”, a la the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. So education for the mayor was now just a ball game of limited duration, and what he expected from Ms. Black was to close out that game. In baseball, that means shut down the opposition, don’t let any new threats develop, keep things where they are. Just hold the line and finish what Joel has started. Nice analogy, just brimming with optimism and hope for a brighter tomorrow.


When the time came to petition the NYS Education Commission David Steiner for a waiver of the legally required educational qualifications, Mayor Bloomberg was beginning to realize that the unwashed masses were getting a bit too up at arms. The Mayor’s response was a classic doubling down on tone deafness: shutting down all public discussion via the Panel for Education Policy. The public be damned; he and he alone would submit the waiver, not the PEP, even though NYS law clearly states that waiver requests are to be submitted through the local board of education.


The Mayor was not going to permit any public forum that might allow some of the parents of those 1.1 million parents to have any voice in who would be leading their children’s schools. The Mayor lashed out once again, arguing that mayoral control means that he makes the decision, not realizing that his very imperiousness was a stick-in-the-open-wound reminder of how he had poured his own millions into the last election to prevent those same citizens from holding him accountable.


All of this was mere anticlimax to an absolute orgy of tone deafness on November 23, however. On that day, Commissioner Steiner convened an advisory panel that effectively rejected the Mayor’s waiver petition for Ms. Black by a vote of 6 – 2 (here and here). Bloomberg, ever the sorest of losers, completely ignored the voices of City Councilpersons, state legislators, and many thousands of unhappy citizens who signed petitions against the waiver. Instead, he lashed out like a child with hurt feelings, saying that the state law requiring waivers to be granted for under-qualified school superintendents should be abolished. Bloomberg of course failed to recognize the irony in his reaction, that the very law he wished to abolish was put in place to prevent behavior exactly like he had demonstrated in the previous two weeks.


Also on November 23, the Daily News reported that Ms. Black’s college transcript had been publicly released, but with the grades blacked out (no pun intended). Her grades in such courses as Introduction to the Sacred Script, Dogma of God and Creation, Theology of the Sacraments, and Liturgical Singing are apparently not in the public interest, yet public schools are publicly graded and the Mayor can hardly wait to release a similar form of grades on individual teachers. The DOE’s response as to why the grades were not being released as well was a Peewee Hermanesque “because we said so.”


Still on that selfsame day, Rupert Murdoch announced News Corps' acquisition of Wireless Generation, "a national leader in the new wave of education reform" as the NY Times put it. That news seems only mildly interesting until one notes that Wireless Generation is one of the DOE's (and Joel Klein's) leading partners in School of One, a technology-based, student-paced learning system that Klein himself has been actively promoting for the past two years and has reportedly been pilot testing in several NYC schools this year. Wireless Generation has also been one of the major recipients of negotiated (not competitively bid) contracts from Chancellor Klein for the hugely expensive ARIS system, a database that Bloomberg and Klein point to as one of their top educational achievements but which is routinely bashed by teachers as useless.


Since Joel Klein would be leaving the DOE to become a senior “education market” strategy executive for Mr. Murdoch, the revolving door sleaze was palpable enough as it was. Announcing the deal on the same day as the waiver rejection, and while Mr. Klein remained in his current Chancellor’s position, came across as Rupert and Joel blatantly thumbing their noses even further at the public.


The late-breaking Quinnipiac College poll, released the evening before Commissioner Steiner’s waiver panel met, reported the public’s strong dislike for Ms. Black as Schools Chancellor. It also showed the Mayor’s favorability ratings plummeting as his tone deafness continued to worsen.


No doubt his private response was that opinion polls should be abolished as well. Why stop the train wreck now?

9 comments:

Chaz said...

Doesn't it scare you that all those famous people Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinman, Woopie Goldberg, etc. who have no clue about education and certainly not the classroom see no problem with Cathie Black?

It certainly scares and disappoints me.

Steve Koss said...

My disappointment (or frustration?) comes from the fact that these people all know each other, are all part of the same social network or club. They're much more concerned about helping one of their own than about the educations of a million kids. Whoopie Goldberg is especially disappointing to me; I always thought better of her than this.

Tim said...

We lost -- Black is in with Shael Polakow-Suransky installed as the 'chief academic officer.'

He's a Broad Academy grad, involved in the Leadership Academy, etc.

Heckuva job, Steiner.

DAVID PAKTER said...

_________________________________

Another Bull's Eye for Steve Koss
...As Cathie Fades to Black
_________________________________

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE
_________________________________

And to all you high and mighty, you people of power and influence, we the "little people" once looked up to, respected, sometimes even idolized- we get it now.
We see you all now for what you are and what we see breaks our hearts with a pain that goes beyond words.

It is you who are the little people. Little of character, little of morals, devoid of any sense of real ethics. Do not even bother now to massage or alter your statements and positions on the infamous Ms. Black and that very little man who calls himself Mayor of our great City. Anything you might try to say now would simply ring cheap and hollow and come up "a day late and a dollar short".

Would we all have been better off to remain in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the very hard life lessons we have learned of late? I do not think so.

As parents, as teachers, as individuals on whose shoulders rests the responsibility to teach our children well we now realize there is still one more important lesson to teach the young. A lesson about looking up blindly and unquestioningly to people skilled in presenting themselves to the world as Saints with characters of purely gold intentions.

We must realize now that both we and our children must absorb well one of the bigger lessons emanating from Black-Gate. That is to say how things and people are never quite what they seem- either in life or in politics.

Perhaps the great English poet, Thomas Gray, (1716-1771), summed it all up quite well in his famous poem, written in another age, but the message and lesson remain the same- to wit, where he says in the final stanza of:

On The Death Of A Favourite Cat, Drowned In A Tub Of Gold Fishes
_______________________________
From hence, ye beauties undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.
________________________________

Thank you Steven Koss for laying it all out for us. Are we not now, after Black-Gate, while perhaps a good deal sadder, at the very least, certainly far more wise.

DAVID PAKTER said...

_________________________________

Another Bull's Eye for Steve Koss
...As Cathie Fades to Black
_________________________________

The manner and exceptional skill with which Steven Koss has described the entire ugly and sordid history of "Black-Gate" deserves the highest praise.

He has analyzed this nasty business with a fine scalpel and nailed Michael Bloomberg fast to a cross this Mayor constructed for himself via his own unbounded Hubris
.
Doubtless many will comment further on "Black-Gate" in the coming weeks and months. However it is quite hard to imagine anyone topping the beyond brilliant recounting and analysis dished up by Mr. Koss of how Michael Bloomberg, a man who once commanded such great power and public importance fell so quickly from Grace in the minds, eyes and hearts of those teeming masses he once professed to care so much about.

At this point Mayor Mike has effectively turned himself into a footnote to New York City's history as far as what a Mayor is expected to represent as a role model and example for others, adults as well as children, to try to emulate.

The term "spoiled brat" is indeed most appropriate.
But in the fall of a once respected man of great wealth a second and most unsettling revelation has emerged that has surprised me and I assume countless other people.

We have now learned and come to realize to our great regret that so many well known and public men and women who we have looked up to for decades as our Heroes and Heroines are not what we believed them to be.

Beyond their public histories, their speeches, their Best-Selling books and their public faces and phony posturing, we have now seen how when a member of "The Club" gets in trouble, it not to the side of true compassion for New York City's teeming masses- the so-called "Little People"-to whom the rich and famous of America gravitate, but rather there is a rush to prop up and defend one of their own.

So many of the famous names mentioned by Mr. Koss were people after whom I had tried to mold my own character and ethical standards for decades.

And now, much to my horror, and with a sadness that goes far beyond anger, I feel a profound hole in my heart where there was once a sense of abiding hope, that despite all the crooks and political hacks in our midst that there are, or at least still were, some among high Society's "rich and famous", whether Black, White or 'Purple', who still remembered their "roots" and where they came from.

CONTINUED BELOW

Paola de Kock said...

Many thanks, Steve, for stringing it all together so nicely, and with sources—as they say, you just can’t make this stuff up!. The college transcript raises issues beyond Black’s refusal to release her grades (the city and state may be bound by privacy laws, but Ms. Black is not and wouldn’t it set a good example for the chancellor to release her own grades along with the teachers’?).
The Daily News reports that Ms. Black took “a course load heavy on humanities, only one science class - biology - and no math.” It’s safe to say she took no statistics, either, so what to make of the waiver request’s assertion that: “she has the knowledge and experience to make data-driven decisions”? On what basis would she make those decisions? Would she really understand, say, the value-added model or the Progress Reports calculations—or just go with “the bottom line” as pushed by others? And, considering “Her history was limited to History of Art I, Western Civilization and The Renaissance: 1300-1500,” I would hardly call her course load “heavy” on humanities. If fact, it seems the only thing it was “heavy” on was religion courses. And nothing in Ms. Black’s 40-year career since college suggests she acquired more intellectual depth along the way. Is it really too much to ask that our schools chancellor have demonstrated at least a passing interest in a well-rounded curriculum?

DAVID PAKTER said...

_________________________________

Another Bull's Eye for Steve Koss
...As Cathie Fades to Black
_________________________________

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE

And to all you high and mighty, you people of power and influence, we the "little people" once looked up to, respected, sometimes even idolized- we get it now.
We see you all now for what you are and what we see breaks our hearts with a pain that goes beyond words.

It is you who are the little people. Little of character, little of morals, devoid of any sense of real ethics. Do not even bother now to massage or alter your statements and positions on the infamous Ms. Black and that very little man who calls himself Mayor of our great City. Anything you might try to say now would simply ring cheap and hollow and come up "a day late and a dollar short".

Would we all have been better off to remain in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the very hard life lessons we have learned of late? I do not think so.

As parents, as teachers, as individuals on whose shoulders rests the responsibility to teach our children well we now realize there is still one more important lesson to teach the young. A lesson about looking up blindly and unquestioningly to people skilled in presenting themselves to the world as Saints with characters of purely gold intentions.

We must realize now that both we and our children must absorb well one of the bigger lessons emanating from Black-Gate. That is to say how things and people are never quite what they seem- either in life or in politics.

Perhaps the great English poet, Thomas Gray, (1716-1771), summed it all up quite well in his famous poem, written in another age, but the message and lesson remain the same- to wit, where he says in the final stanza of:

On The Death Of A Favourite Cat, Drowned In A Tub Of Gold Fishes
_______________________________
From hence, ye beauties undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.
________________________________

Thank you Steven Koss for laying it all out for us. Are we not now, after Black-Gate, while perhaps a good deal sadder, at the very least, certainly far more wise.

JordanJacqui said...

This continues the descent of our great nation into a second-rate power. Now the model is set for a total lack of pretense over appointments - powerful political connections are all you will need to be the supervisor of doctors, dentists, hospitals, lawyers, pilots, accountants, banking and finance, etc. Incompetence will prevail, and celebrated as success. Future surgeries, airplane flights, audits etc. will be quite hazardous for your health! And, home school your children!

Anonymous said...

Rather than say who they don't want, the parents of NYC ought to push for people they DO want. Diane Ravitch would be a great Schools Chancellor, and I'm sure there's others we could all suggest. (I like E.D. Hirsch and Sue Dickson) This Mayor, Oprah and all their lovely friends need to know that there are people out there we all trust and who could actually help our 1.1 million children.