History Lesson: Bloomberg's Case to Make Klein Chancellor

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Javier C. Hernandez of the New York Times explains why there's so much uproar about Mayor Bloomberg's appointment of Cathie Black to the new schools chancellor post and how she compares to her predecessor, Joel Klein.

Everyone is talking about the new appointment of Cathie Black to the schools chancellor post. Mayor Bloomberg's announcement has been anything but smooth, but the reaction to her appointment is not entirely unfamiliar. Back in 2002, when Bloomberg appointed Joel Klein to the position, there was also a backlash because of Klein's lack of professional experience in education. To assume the post, Klein needed a waiver to bypass the required education credentials for the position. Black needs this waiver too, but according to Javier Hernandez, this time around might be a harder fight for Bloomberg.

One of the Mayor's arguments for Klein's waiver in 2002, according to Hernandez's breakdown of the differences, was that the position required a deep understanding of labor law and the ability to negotiate with unions — qualities Black doesn't seem to have.

Joel had served in government. He had had experience as a lawyer working with unions...Cathie Black doesn't really, as far as we can tell, have much of that expereince at all. Her staff force at Hearst is actually non-unionized and she's not a product herself of public schools as Joel Klein was so the case it seems, on the surface at least is going to be more strained.

Black's educational narrative is private schooling through and through. Klein, on the other hand, grew up in the public school system in New York City. Hernandez says, this background helped make the case that he understood city schools.

I think a lot of what Klein was able to, the reason the state gave him a waiver was partly because of his compelling narrative of his life story.  It doesn't hurt when you're trying to convince skeptics that a former Justice Department prosecutor should run a school system. It doesn't hurt that he grew up in public housing and attended Queens local schools...That sort of a personal narrative I think, helped push him over the edge.

This time around, Hernandez says some of the public opposition to Black also directed at Mayor Bloomberg.

It's also anger at the mayor's process of selecting her. He obviously kept it secret for a long time until the very day of her announcement and that obviously rubbed people the wrong way... This is really a moment where a lot of people thought the Mayor might step back and say, how have we done over the past eight years? I'm looking for your input... He says he's done that, he won't say with whom, but it's obviously been a very closed process.

City Council members have also expressed concerns about Black's appointment, some saying they will not approve a waiver. The mayor is preparing to submit a letter to the State on Black's behalf this week.