Friday, April 8, 2011

Bloomberg changes course on Cathie Black just in time, but it's 'unclear' if he's learned from it

Friday, April 8th 2011, 4:00 AM

After a tumultuous three months in office as schools chancellor, Cathie Black has been pushed out by Mayor Bloomberg, who initially championed her appointment.
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After a tumultuous three months in office as schools chancellor, Cathie Black has been pushed out by Mayor Bloomberg, who initially championed her appointment.

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Mayor Bloomberg's critics say he has spent his third term at the helm of the Titanic - confidently ramming his ship into an iceberg, then deluding himself that it isn't sinking.

But after Bloomberg finally bowed to reality and jettisoned Cathie Black Thursday, maybe he can make his remaining three years more like Apollo 13.

That was the spacecraft crippled by an explosion 200,000 miles from Earth. As catastrophe loomed, engineers wrote a new path on the fly, astronauts turned the ship around - and everybody survived what became known as a "successful failure."

By taking swift action to solve a festering problem, Bloomberg may have finally shown he's willing to confront the missteps and blown opportunities that have marred his third term.

"This could certainly be a turning point of changing that dynamic," said someone who works with the mayor every day.

"I don't get the sense that he's blaming anyone internally" - anyone except himself.

Inside City Hall, many on the mayor's team quietly fumed when he picked the inexperienced Black, but they tried to get behind her for the sake of their shared mission.

After the post-Christmas blizzard revealed City Hall couldn't even handle a snowstorm anymore, they realized there was a leadership problem.

It took a team of the mayor's top aides to mop up the snow mess.

And while Bloomberg said all the right things afterward, they were never convinced he saw it as more than just a run of bad luck - instead of a wakeup call to pay more attention to running the city.

Now, Bloomberg may see things differently.

When he left City Hall Thursday afternoon to speak at a conference sponsored by his company, he complained to friends that "they never gave her a chance," said someone who was there.

Inside City Hall, though, sources said he reluctantly came to see the debacle was his own creation - and that his prized pick simply wasn't up to the job.

Bloomberg isn't the kind of guy to change his mind just because other people disagree with him - he had to realize for himself that Black wasn't right for the job.

"He came to the conclusion that it wasn't working," said a well-placed source. "It's extraordinary for him to conclude this."

So Bloomberg has realized his ship has taken a hit.

The question is: Does he understand he must change the way he steers in order to finish the term safely?

Two of his top allies offered the same one-word answer: "Unclear."

alisberg@nydailynews.com

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