Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Friday, July 24, 2009

More Information Than Anyone Wants, On Joel Irwin Klein

July 30, 2002
THE NEW SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR: MAN IN THE NEWS; A Path Back to School -- Joel Irwin Klein

New York City's new schools chancellor is not an easy man to shop for. When he stepped down as assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department in 2000, having led the government's prosecution of Microsoft, his senior staff members huddled about a farewell gift.

Though their boss, Joel I. Klein, had spent almost his entire career in Washington, he never gave up a certain directness of manner that many associate with New York City. He is impatient, friends say, with the paraphernalia that surrounds powerful people in both cities.

''It's fair to say that Joel is not a crystal bookends sort of guy,'' said Susan Davies, who was a senior counsel in the antitrust division. ''You don't get him a humidor.''

Mr. Klein had spoken from time to time about his roots in the New York City school system and his gratitude for the education he received there. The aides decided to endow a scholarship for high school seniors interested in public service, at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, Mr. Klein's alma mater.

When Mr. Klein was told of the gift at a reception in a conference room at the Justice Department, he was moved to tears.

''It was the only time I ever saw him at a loss,'' Ms. Davies said. ''Momentarily, but at a loss.''

Mr. Klein's feeling for and commitment to the city's public schools may count for a lot, because the fit between his résumé and the task at hand is not entirely obvious.

''Can you be sure that an appellate lawyer and an antitrust lawyer, even with all his skills, can make it running a school system?'' asked A. Douglas Melamed, Mr. Klein's principal deputy and successor at the Justice Department. His tone suggested both personal affection and more than a little uncertainty.

Lloyd Constantine, who once served as New York's top antitrust official, harbored doubts, too. ''I don't think that just because you've been a good astronaut, you'd be a good senator,'' he said.

Mr. Klein became chairman and chief executive of Bertelsmann Inc., the corporate-services arm of the German media giant, in January 2001. His departure, friends said, is unrelated to the ouster over the weekend of Thomas Middelhoff, the parent company's chairman and chief executive. Mr. Middelhoff had recruited Mr. Klein to the company after meeting him at a dinner party at the home of the powerful Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan.

Mr. Klein has told friends that he was restless as a corporate executive and was eager to return to public service.

Joel Irwin Klein was born in New York City on Oct. 25, 1946. His father was a postal worker, his mother a bookkeeper. The family lived in a housing project, a cluster of six-story apartment buildings in Woodside, Queens.

James Rigney, 75, who lives there now, remembered a time when a little friendly discipline kept children off the grass, and he said he hoped Mr. Klein would bring some of that same attitude to his new job.

''The neighbors would grab you and pull you off,'' he said. ''They were concerned about how it would reflect their neighborhood.''

Mr. Klein's parents had high hopes for their son, and they invested that hope in the city's schools. ''They had this vision,'' Mr. Klein said at a news conference yesterday, ''and the schools helped give me the equipment.''

He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

During a leave of absence from law school in 1969, Mr. Klein studied at New York University's School of Education and taught math to sixth graders at a public school in Queens.

Mr. Klein served as a law clerk for David L. Bazelon, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr (pictured at right) of the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. Klein said he had two key mentors in his life. One was a high school physics teacher, who tried to teach Mr. Klein the theory of relativity. ''I don't want to suggest to you that I learned Einstein's theory of relativity,'' Mr. Klein said, ''but he did take the time to teach me.''

The other was Justice Powell. ''The thing that stood out to me was when Lewis Powell danced with you, he danced with you,'' Mr. Klein said. ''He never looked over your shoulder to see if there was somebody more important, more interesting, or could help him.''

Mr. Klein is married to Nicole Seligman, (above) executive vice president and general counsel of Sony Corporation of America. Ms. Seligman, formerly a partner in the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, represented President Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings.

Mr. Klein has a teenage daughter from an earlier marriage. She attended private school in Washington and then boarding school.

Mr. Klein was in private legal practice in Washington for 20 years, focusing on health care, particularly in the area of mental health, and constitutional litigation. He argued 11 cases before the Supreme Court and won 9 of them.

He also taught at Georgetown's law school in that period. One of his students was Michael K. Powell, now chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Mr. Powell recalled that Mr. Klein did not teach an evening seminar in an esoteric subject to third-year students, as most adjunct professors did. ''Joel taught full time, in the day, to first-year students,'' he said. The subject was civil procedure, which many lawyers find mystifying.

''Joel was an extraordinary teacher who had a mastery of complex subjects and the ability to make them simple,'' Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Klein joined the Clinton White House in 1993, early in the administration, replacing Vincent W. Foster Jr. as deputy White House counsel after Mr. Foster committed suicide. He helped prepare Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice.

He moved to the Justice Department in 1995 and was made the nation's top antitrust official in 1997. During his tenure, the Justice Department announced a number of record-breaking antitrust fines, recouping nearly $2 billion in all, an unparalleled sum for one of the department's smaller divisions.

In 2000, Mr. Klein began criminal antitrust prosecution of more than a dozen food companies accused of rigging bids on contracts for $210 million of frozen food and fresh produce sold to the New York City Board of Education. The companies pleaded guilty or were convicted.

Mr. Klein's tough tone will serve him well, former colleagues say.

''He's a New Yorker,'' Ms. Davies said. ''He knows what he thinks, and he'll say it.''

Indeed, he seems to have captured a stern teacher's vocabulary.

''They were not a bunch of kids doing a prank,'' he told the journalist James Fallows. He was describing the conduct of Microsoft executives.

November 10, 2008
The New Team: Joel I. Klein

As he prepares to take office, President-elect Barack Obama is relying on a small team of advisers who will lead his transition operation and help choose the members of a new Obama administration. Following is part of a series of profiles of potential members of the administration.

Name: Joel I. Klein

Being considered for: Education secretary

Would bring to the job: Six years as chancellor of the New York City public school system, the nation’s largest. An increasingly prominent national presence, thanks to forming, with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Education Equality Project, a coalition seeking to transform public education.

Is linked to Mr. Obama by: Friends and associates, including Caroline Kennedy, a college roommate and close friend of Mr. Klein’s wife, Nicole K. Seligman. One of Mr. Obama’s education advisers, Jon Schnur, is the chief executive of New Leaders for New Schools, a program based in New York that has hired many of Mr. Klein’s former staff members. Mr. Klein knows John D. Podesta, who is leading the Obama transition team, from his Washington days.

In his own words: “Are we making good on the moral vision — and the clear social obligation — set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education when we tolerate poorly performing public schools?” (From remarks at a forum in January 2004.)

Used to work as: A lawyer in Washington for nearly three decades, and from 1997 to 2001 as the assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department, where he led the prosecution of Microsoft. He spent two years as deputy White House counsel during the Clinton administration and was chairman and chief executive of Bertelsmann Inc.

Carries as baggage: Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of the New York City teachers’ union who is also the president of the national American Federation of Teachers, has had an acrimonious relationship with Mr. Klein.

Résumé includes: Born Oct. 25, 1946, in New York City ... graduated from Columbia University, but his dearest alma mater is William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens ... taught math to sixth graders in Queens.

FIRE Joel Klein