WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
It was 11:30ish at City Hall. One of the rarest of rare - a Blue Room presser where Mayor Michael Bloomberg did a center stage about-face on something he cares intensely about: Who leads the New York City public schools.
But there Mayor Bloomberg was, the man who prides himself most 'on picking good people,' explaining the end game for one of his most high profile and unorthodox picks.
Outgoing Chancellor Cathleen Black just never got the narrative back. Her botched rollout came as the city was bracing for the biggest teacher layoffs in a generation, and there was no time to teach ‘remedial relating.’
"She and I met this morning and have mutually agreed that was in the city's best interest if she step down as chancellor," recounted Bloomberg. " I will say I take full responsibility that this has not worked out as we both had hoped or expected."
The mayor recounted for reporters he has just some 900 days left, kind of like the top of the seventh. With the mayor's poor poll numbers, he has already resorted to running TV ads and glossy mailers as if it were the start on another campaign. No, at this point the wounded have to be left behind.
Next to the Mayor was Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. Usually Walcott is in the chorus line of Mayoral direct reports, but on this day he was soon to be front and center.
Reporters tried several different ways to get the mayor to play Monday morning quaterback on Black, but he'd have none of it; all eyes forward.
The 59-year-old Walcott, a southeast Queens native, is a product of the New York City schools. He was a kindergarten teacher and appointed by Mayor David Dinkins to the old New York City Board of Education. He has a Masters in education and a Masters in Social Work, but lacks a Superintendent's license - like his predecessor he will need a waiver from the State Board of Regents.
Part of the Blue Room tableau included a charming contingent of elementary school children from PS 10 in Park Slope Brooklyn. A few years back, Walcott attended a PS 10 Science Fair and struck up a relationship with these kids, who were perfectly happy on this day to play hooky to support their man on his big day.
After their Blue Room cameo, they were kind of like Walcott's own body detail, shadowing his first steps as the Chancellor designee. They went upstairs, no doubt to get a tour of Mayor Bloomberg's bullpen where the policy sausage gets made.
By 2:00 p.m., the ‘Dennis for Chancellor’ campaign was in high gear. At DOE central, the Tweed Court House, Walcott was greeted with a sustained applause from hundreds of Department of Education employees.
For nearly a decade, he has been Mayor Bloomberg's point man on education as a Deputy Mayor from the earliest days of Bloomberg's tenure. He said he was ready for the rough and tumble that he said would come with his new job.
"The passion of my soul is committed to the children of New York City," said Walcott. "I have a track record in doing that. I am not worried about people who are going to be the naysayers. That doesn't bother me. That goes with the territory."
Walcott was asked if perhaps the mayor should have considered a national search that engaged other stakeholders. Walcott dismissed the idea.
“Let’s take a quick step back and remember what we fought for,” he said. “We fought for the heat, so I’m not shy about the heat. We fought for mayoral control because in the past, it was a dysfunctional system - power and policy was diffused across the city, and we said it’s important for the mayor to be in control and the mayor to have the authority to hire and fire, to make sure that the policies were placed based of the mayor.”
On the steps of City Hall City, Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito thought Mayor Bloomberg had lost a critical opportunity to appear magnanimous and include other stakeholders in a search for a new leader for the city schools.
It was not about personalities, but process she said. "Considering how we arrived at this place that some key voices were not heard in that decision-making process, and yet he's not reflecting in this and trying to implement in a different way. I think that's the problem here."