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Cathie Black out as N.Y.C. schools chief in Bloomberg bid to limit damage

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired controversial schools chancellor Cathie Black just three months after he'd named the publishing executive to head the nation's largest school system.

By Staff writer / April 7, 2011

New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black speaks with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a groundbreaking ceremony in New York. Black resigned Thursday, April 7, after a rocky three months that included parents heckling her at board meetings, plummeting poll numbers and the departures of several deputy chancellors.

Mark Lennihan/AP

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has had to replace public schools chancellor Cathie Black just three months after he made what many observers saw as a highly unusual – and questionable – appointment to oversee the nation’s largest school system.

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Both the beginning and the end to Ms. Black’s short and tumultuous tenure were an embarrassment to Mayor Bloomberg, who’s in the middle of his third and last term as mayor, dropping in the polls and trying to buff up his legacy.

Black’s replacement – Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott – is everything Black was not.

Like Bloomberg, her background was in publishing. She was chairman of Hearst Magazines – a “superstar manager,” Bloomberg had called her – but she had no experience in either education or government.

Mr. Walcott had been a kindergarten teacher for 10 years and a foster-care worker, and he founded the Frederick Douglass Brother-to-Brother program, a mentoring program for boys.

As deputy mayor for education and community development, Walcott oversaw the Department of Education, the New York City Housing Authority, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education.

More to the point for many New Yorkers, while Black had sent her children to exclusive private schools, Walcott’s grandchildren are the fourth generation in a family that attended New York City public schools.

"I'm just a guy from Queens whose parents were raised in Harlem," Walcott said at Thursday's City Hall press conference. "I consider myself very blessed and very lucky to be asked."

Education-watchers were not surprised by Black’s departure.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a nonpartisan education think tank in Washington, predicted as much back in December.

'Cathie Black will be gone by Easter'

“Cathie Black will be gone by Easter,” he wrote on his blog. “A betting man might say that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will stubbornly hold fast to his choice, but I foresee a breaking point a few months hence.”

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