The Case For Cathie Black

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Mayor Bloomberg’s nomination of publishing executive Cathie Black has touched off a wave of criticism, from politicians to citizens petitioning against her. The administration, meanwhile, has mounted a defense of her selection and her application for a waiver from the state Education Department that will allow her to take the chancellorship despite a lack of formal qualifications. Here is a sampling of the arguments being made on Black’s behalf:

From a letter signed by former mayors Edward Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani:

Dear Commissioner Steiner:

We write with 24 years of experience as Mayors of the City of New York, and with a shared commitment to seeing our city and its schools thrive and succeed. It is with this experience and these values in mind that we urge you to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s request for a waiver to enable Cathleen P. Black to serve as New York City Schools Chancellor.

There is no job other than Mayor that can truly prepare someone to serve as the City’s chief executive; and there is no job other than Chancellor that can truly prepare someone for the responsibilities of running the nation’s largest school system. Any past experience is necessarily incomplete. But at a turbulent time of severe budget cuts, maintaining organizational stability will be chief among the challenges facing the new Schools Chancellor, and it is clear that Ms. Black certainly has an extraordinary track record of managing large organizations through trying circumstances. We believe that Mayor Bloomberg’s faith in Ms. Black’s competence and her proven history as an outstanding executive is, in and of itself, reason enough to grant the necessary waiver.

But beyond Ms. Black’s particular qualifications, it is important that you approve the Mayor’s request for a waiver in order to maintain the clear line of accountability for the schools that today runs straight to City Hall.

Read the full letter here.

From a letter signed by dozens of business leaders, including executives at Goldman Sachs and American International Group:

Dear Commissioner Steiner,

Over the past 40 years, Ms. Black has demonstrated extraordinary management acumen. She has been a pioneer in her field, unafraid of confronting the conventional wisdom, and
determined to succeed. Her track record of success at various different companies speaks for itself, and the skills she has developed are ones that are essential to running any large organization, whether in the private, public, or nonprofit sector. We know this from our experience with Cathie over many years.

We cannot take for granted the progress New York City schools are making. The City must continue to have strong leadership at the top – leadership that is capable of making the hard decisions, targeting resources effectively, developing innovative new approaches, and challenge the status quo. In each of these areas, you would be hard-pressed to find a more qualified and more capable candidate than Cathie Black.

Read the full letter here.

From the mayor’s waiver application to the State Department of Education:

The challenging issues facing the New York City schools demand a bold thinker who is not afraid to champion new ideas. Ms. Black is widely recognized as a visionary. At Hearst Ms. Black was responsible for putting the company at the forefront of digital expansion by starting a digital media unit dedicated to creating and implementing online and mobile strategies. The digital unit has launched or acquired 24 websites and 10 mobile platforms. Under her leadership, the company also developed digital edition, as well as iPhone and iPad applications for many of its brands. Ms. Black will bring the same forward-thinking vision to our school system to ensure that our students are technologically advanced and able to succeed in the 21st century. She has the knowledge and experience to make data-driven decisions and to expand important Department of Education technology initiatives designed to enhance accountability and track and improve student performance.

Read the full letter here.