While strange things have been known to happen in New York politics, one thing seems absolutely certain: The Dennis Walcott era at the Department of Education will be longer and better than the Cathie Black era.
Of course, that’s not saying much. Ms. Black managed to make a terrible mess of things in a short amount of time, alienating parents, embarrassing her boss and generally acting like the out-of-touch elitist her critics portrayed her to be. When Mayor Bloomberg chose her to succeed Joel Klein, even her supporters–including The New York Observer, on this very page–conceded that she did not have a background in public education. Many hoped that she would commit herself to learning the difference between running a business and educating children. She never did.
Now it is up to Mr. Walcott to clean up the mess and restore the credibility of the chancellor’s office. He is the right person for the job–he is a former schoolteacher himself, and as we learned in recent days, his grandchild is a public-school student in Queens. He has spent his career in and around government, so he knows how to maneuver his way around city politics.
Give Mr. Bloomberg credit for conceding that he made a mistake in asking Ms. Black to do a job she simply wasn’t capable of doing. Given how much political capital the mayor expended on Ms. Black’s behalf, it took no small amount of humility to pull the plug after just three months. It’s clear, however, that it was the right decision.
Ms. Black did the mayor a favor in her post-resignation remarks. She played the sexism card, charging that her critics were tough with her because of her gender. In an interview with Fortune magazine, she asked: “If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did?” She even suggested that newspaper editors conspired to publish unflattering pictures of her, as if these images somehow influenced public opinion.
Regrettably, Ms Black clearly doesn’t get it. She lost her job not because she is a woman, and not because she looked a little less than perfect in the pages of the tabloids. She lost her job because she was bad at it.
So, for the sake of the children, she is gone. And as long as that is the measuring stick, perhaps the head of the United Federation of Teachers, Mike Mulgrew, will do the right thing by the city’s public-school students by joining Ms. Black in retirement. Mr. Mulgrew and his union remain obstacles to the sort of education reform and innovation that New York’s schoolchildren so desperately need.
Cathie Black was bad at her job and paid the price for it. But bad teachers rarely suffer such a fate, thanks to the UFT’s obstructionism. There was no rubber room for Cathie Black, no make-work assignment to keep her on the job despite her incompetence. But for public-school teachers, outdated tenure laws mean that incompetents rarely if ever are held accountable.
But perhaps Mr. Mulgrew will consider making room for somebody new and more creative. After all, it’s all about the kids, right?