A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
As a groundswell of criticism threatened to capsize her appointment as New York City’s schools chancellor,Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive with no background in education policy, was increasingly focused on one question: What wouldOprahsay?
Eager for Oprah Winfrey to offer a testimonial on her behalf, Ms. Black dispatched a deputy mayor to broker an endorsement through Gayle King, a mutual friend. Later, Ms. Black went as far as to suggest talking points for the television star to keep in mind when describing the would-be chancellor.
“Tremendous leadership, excellent manager, innovator, mother of two and cares about the future of all children,” Ms. Black wrote in an e-mail to Ms. Winfrey on Nov. 17, 2010. “Grace under pressure.” She ended the message: “I owe you big time.”
The exchange was revealed on Thursday after theBloomberg administrationlost a legal battle to withhold a series of e-mail exchanges between Ms. Black and city officials, which the city had fought for two years to keep private.
The messages, written in the days before and after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appointed Ms. Black, capture the anxious efforts within the Bloomberg administration to quell the poor public reception to her selection, as education experts and lawmakers alike questioned her readiness for the job.
Even as City Hall aides arranged for Ms. Black to introduce herself to leading public officials, she appeared focused on securing endorsements from celebrities and socialites.
At one point, Ms. Black suggested that the daughter of Donald Trump could offer kind words: “Would we want Ivanka Trump? Think she would do,” she wrote.
The terse reply suggested that Mr. Bloomberg’s team was unimpressed. “I would skip,” wrote Micah Lasher, the mayor’s legislative director at the time.
Requests for comment sent to Ms. Black and Ms. Winfrey were not answered on Thursday evening.
The Bloomberg administration hoped the endorsements could help persuade the state education commissioner to grant Ms. Black a waiver to become chancellor, which she needed because of her lack of education credentials. Ms. Blackeventually received the waiver, and the job. Butshe resigned just 95 daysinto her tenure, after Mr. Bloomberg concluded that the situation could not be salvaged.
Mr. Bloomberg overruled several of his top advisers in choosing Ms. Black, then the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, to replaceJoel I. Kleinas chancellor. An outcry almost immediately ensued, forcing City Hall into a frantic public relations campaign to shore up her reputation with the public.
“All our focus needs to be on getting allies to come out in support,” Mr. Lasher wrote in one message. “We will be fine.”
Ms. Black was particularly keen to secure the endorsement ofCaroline Kennedy, who served on the board of an education group and had been forced to abandon arocky bid for appointmentto the Senate in 2009. “Obviously,” one aide wrote, “she has some sympathy for what you’re going through.”
In a note to Ms. Kennedy, Ms. Black conceded that the two had met only briefly and offered that she would “make it easy” for Ms. Kennedy to show support by simply adding her name to a letter.
But Ms. Black grew impatient: she complained to Ms. Harris after several hours had passed without a reply from Ms. Kennedy, writing, “I sent this at the crack of dawn but no response. Have you heard anything?” One minute later, Ms. Black sent another e-mail, asking Ms. Harris if she had heard from RepresentativeCarolyn B. Maloney. “I have not and called 2x yesterday,” Ms. Black wrote.
Ms. Winfrey eventually agreed to the endorsement, describing Ms. Black as “tough as nails” and “a tremendous champion for the children of New York” in an interview featured on the front page ofThe Daily News.
The City Hall team could scarcely believe its luck. “I was surprised to learn that we succeeded in have Oprah knock a crime story off the cover,” Stu Loeser, the mayor’s press secretary at the time, wrote to colleagues.
The e-mails had beenrequested by a Village Voice reporter in 2010under state freedom of information laws. City Hall denied the request, and the reporter sued; the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, declined on Thursday to hear the city’s appeal.
The e-mails reveal that Ms. Black was concerned even at the time about her public perception. At one point, she asked City Hall aides whether to “take another course” or “hold steady.” She added, “I am O.K., honestly.”
But in another exchange, she wondered whether she should take added steps for a party she was hosting at her Park Avenue apartment.
“With all of the hullabaloo, should we have security at our apartment?” Ms. Black asked. “Have not in the past ... but someone asked.”
Al Baker, Michael Barbaro and Javier C. Hernández contributed reporting.
As Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s choice for Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black, came under attack in late 2010, City Hall engaged in a breathless push to rally celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, to support the embattled nominee.
The mayor’s former chief of staff, Stu Loeser, wrote a victorious email after Winfrey eventually did speak to the Daily News. “Walking past a newsstand this afternoon, I was surprised to learn that we succeeded in have [sic] Oprah knock a crime story off the cover of the News today … Surprise!”
The details surfaced after the Bloomberg administration was forced by the state’s highest court to release a series of email exchanges that have been requested by a Village Voice intern under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Black’s nomination was ultimately approved by the state education commissioner but she was forced out fewer than 100 days later, in April of 2011, as the negative publicity surrounding her appointment continued to swirl.
The emails between Black and various City Hall officials show how Black grew anxious when attempts to secure endorsements from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Caroline Kennedy fell through.
“Is our strategy working?” Black asked then-deputy mayor Dennis Walcott and legislative aide Micah Lasher, after reading a New York Times story about her nomination on the morning of Nov. 16. “Do we have to take another course? Or hold steady?”
One email listed a spreadsheet of elected officials, plus an aide to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former New York City teachers union president Randi Weingarten, with notes stating whether or not these individuals would be helpful.
“All our focus needs to be on getting allies to come out in support and on getting you prepared for a tip you as soon as possible,” Lasher said. “We will make a few more base-covering calls, but clearly the political community will do what they will do. We will be fine.”
At one point, Black suggested an endorsement from Ivanka Trump but City Hall declined to pursue it. She did win an endorsement from Gloria Steinem.
The emails were released on Thursday after City Hall lost its last attempt to keep them from going public. Two lower-level courts had ruled against the city, and the state’s highest court declined to hear an appeal.
The original request to release the emails came from Sergio Hernandez, who was an intern at the Village Voice in late 2010. When the city declined his request, he was represented by a legal clinic at Yale University and then by a Manhattan law firm working pro bono.
Hernandez, who is now a business editor at The Week, said he also filed Freedom of Information requests to figure out how much money the city spent fighting the case. He said the total was $25,000 as of the end of 2012 and he is seeking to find out how much the city has spent since then.
“I’m actually more surprised that they spent so much time and effort trying to prevent the release than by anything that’s actually in the emails,” he said.
“It’s interesting to me that not one of the people they reached out to have much to do with education or schools or anything that really would have lended credence to Cathie Black’s qualifications for the job,” he added. “It’s an interesting sort of window into the mayor and his offices thinking during this sort of fiasco.”
Today, I am suing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Last year, Bloombergbaffled New Yorkerswhen he appointed publishing executive Cathie Black to be the city's next schools chancellor. Black was an unpopular choice, and for months, responses to her appointment ran the gamut of ridicule, confusion, and outrage.
Black's tenurecame to an abrupt endin April, when the mayor asked her to step down from the post after just three months on the job. New Yorkers who opposed her appointment were vindicated, but the question remained: What led the mayor to make such a choice?
When he first appointed Black, Bloomberginsisted he'd cast a wide netto find the right fit. "I did have a public search, and I picked the best person," he said.
But critics responded with skepticism, and theNew York Times' City Room blogadded a healthy dose of snarkwhen it begged anyone who was considered for the job, or even merely heard about it, to come forward.
No one did.
At the time, I was reporting for Runnin' Scared, and in November, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the mayor's office to ferret out more details about the "public search" that resulted in Black's appointment. I figured the modern conveniences of e-mail meant there was a decent chance I would find a digital trail leading to Black's nomination.
So on November 19, Iasked City Hallfor any e-mails between the mayor's office and Black (who, at the time, was still employed at Hearst Magazines). E-mails by city officials are, after all, presumptively public records under New York's FOIL.
By then, I'd left theVillage Voicefor a reporting stint with the investigative journalism nonprofitProPublicaand dropped the story until late February, when a friend of mine referred my case to theMedia Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School. In March, one of the clinic's students wrote me back, and we began working together to draft today's petition.
Sergio Hernandez is a freelance journalist in New York City. He is currently a reporter forProPublica, a Pulitzer-winning nonprofit, investigative newsroom. Previously, he was a reporting intern for theVillage Voice'sRunnin' Scaredblog and a contributing reporter forGawker.com.
The idea was simple: a letter signed by some of the country’s most prominent women endorsingCathleen P. Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, to lead New York City’s schools.
But to gain the support of dozens of celebrities, authors and feminist leaders, aides to MayorMichael R. Bloombergprivately advanced an argument they had mostly shied away from in public: that some of the opposition to Ms. Black’s candidacy in 2010 was grounded in sexism.
Atrove of e-mail messagesreleased on Thursday revealed the deliberations of Mr. Bloomberg’s political maestros as they sought to salvage Ms. Black’s candidacy.
As they prepared to contact dozens of famous women, his aides planned to use several talking points, among them Ms. Black’s managerial and business accomplishments, according to the e-mails. The aides also planned to argue that there was “clearly a difference” between the ways the public treated Ms. Black, “a female publisher without educational experience,” and her predecessor,Joel I. Klein, “a male prosecutor without educational experience.”
In the end, 28 womensigned the letter, including Gloria Steinem, Evelyn Lauder and Whoopi Goldberg.
“Ms. Black has played a critical role breaking through the glass ceiling — not once, not twice, but time and again,” said the letter, which was addressed to the state education commissioner at the time,David M. Steiner.
A few boldface names deemed worth calling in the e-mails were absent from the letter.
One such prospect was Caroline Kennedy, who aides to Mr. Bloomberg thought would be sympathetic because of her awkward experiencetrying to win appointmentto a Senate seat.
Others who did not participate included Bette Midler, Diane von Furstenberg, Liz Holtzman, Anna Quindlen and Deborah Norville.
Ms. Norville said she had been approached by a friend of Ms. Black’s, and she admired Ms. Black and was a friend of hers. But she felt her participation would be inappropriate “as a member of the working press.”
Ms. Holtzman said that to the best of her memory, she was not approached. It was not clear if others refused or had not been reached; a spokesman for Ms. Midler said she had not been asked.
Some women who signed the letter said on Friday that they had no regrets, despite Ms. Black’s turbulent, 95-day tenure as chancellor.
Ms. Steinem, who got to know Ms. Black when they both worked at Ms. magazine, described Ms. Black’s experience as chancellor as “bruising.” Ms. Steinem said she was concerned that the reaction to the e-mails, released after a protracted legal fight over whether they were part of the public record, would unfairly harm Ms. Black’s reputation.
“It seems as if Cathie got beaten up in public for answering a call to civic service after a long and hard-working career,” Ms. Steinem wrote in an e-mail. “Now she may get beaten up again by the rehashing of memos not her own.”
In an interview early in her tenure, Ms. Black dismissed suggestions that the reaction to her candidacy had been sexist. “Joel Klein had a lot of grief when he first started in this job,” she said. “I have not felt it’s been sexist at all.”
But after she resigned,she told Fortune magazine, “If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did? And the worst pictures!”
The archive of messages also shined light on the political operation in City Hall; officials there declined to comment on them on Friday. There were notes on which people to call, and what City Hall thought of them.
One critic of the mayor’s educational policies, Patrick J. Sullivan, was labeled “not a team player.” John C. Liu, the city comptroller, was called an enemy of Mr. Klein. The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, was said to be focused “on bedbugs, among other things.”
Alain Delaquérière and Vivian Yee contributed reporting.