The city's embattled schools chancellor resigned Thursday after three contentious months on the job, the latest in a series of third-term setbacks for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a defeat of his bid to hire a business-minded outsider like himself for a top job.
"I will take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped or expected," Bloomberg said at a hastily called City Hall news conference to announce Cathie Black's resignation. Black did not attend.
Bloomberg surprised even some officials within his administration when he plucked the former publishing executive from the business world and installed her as head of the nation's largest public school system. Critics assailed her lack of experience as an educator, but the mayor called Black a "superstar manager" and said her private-sector experience would make her a successful schools chancellor.
Instead, Black's first months were bumpy. She faced heckling by parents, the departure of several deputy chancellors and scorn over her joke that school overcrowding could be fixed with birth control. Earlier this week, a poll showed her approval rating had dropped to 17 percent.
Bloomberg said that he and Black met Thursday morning and "mutually agreed that it is in the city's best interest if she steps down as chancellor."
"We both agreed that the story had become her and it should be about the students," said Bloomberg, who announced that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott would replace Black as chancellor.
Local officials and parent advocates who had fought her appointment declared victory, and some suggested that the business-minded approach taken by the billionaire mayor _ a former media executive himself _ was misguided.
"The departure of Cathie Black is confirmation that public schools are not businesses in need of a CEO," Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, said in a statement. "Public service and public education are about something more precious than alleged corporate efficiency."
Soon after Walcott was named as the new chancellor, more than a dozen public officials dashed off statements praising him for his education experience _ something Black had lacked.
With schoolchildren brought in by the administration looking on, the mayor spoke at length about Walcott's experience with children, including as a kindergarten teacher, a foster care worker and as founder of the Frederick Douglass Brother-to-Brother mentoring program for boys. As deputy mayor for education and community development, Walcott has overseen the Department of Education, with its 1.1 million students in almost 1,700 schools, as wells as the New York City Housing Authority, the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Mayor's Office of Adult Education.
Walcott said he would continue with the reforms introduced under Bloomberg.
"To me the great equalizer in society is ensuring that every child receives a quality education, especially a quality public education," said Walcott, himself a graduate of the city's public schools.
Bloomberg has a reputation as a fierce defender of his administration's top appointments, with the exception of Patricia Lancaster, whose abrupt departure as Buildings Department commissioner three years ago followed a string of 13 construction-accident deaths in only a few months' time.
On Thursday, the mayor stood behind Black's performance, saying, "I have nothing but respect and admiration for her and for the work she has done."
Speaking outside her home, Black told the TV station NY1 that she felt "fine" about the transition.
"It's been a great privilege to serve the city of New York and the mayor for three months," she said. "I have loved the principals and the teachers and the kids. Dennis Walcott is a great guy. We have a wonderful relationship and I wish everybody the best."
From the beginning, Bloomberg's appointment of the former Hearst Magazines chairwoman caused consternation among parent advocates, some of whom filed lawsuits. Critics said the mayor's decision-making had been secretive. There was no formal search announced.
When faced by heckling from hostile parents at one community meeting, she heckled them back. When Community Board 1 Chairwoman Julie Menin questioned Black regarding school crowding, she quipped that birth control could fix the problem.
After she became chancellor in January, several department officials left. Most recently, deputy schools chancellor John White resigned this week to head a district of low-performing Louisiana schools, primarily in New Orleans.
One of the group, former deputy chancellor Eric Nadelstern, said that a lack of media access to Black led to relentless coverage of her slip-ups. Over time, it became clear that she had become a liability, he said.
"It is a very formidable ... learning curve, and I think she was still in that learning curve when City Hall determined that her time was up," he said.
Bloomberg's own approval numbers have been declining in recent months, as he has dealt with the aftermath of a flawed city response to a major blizzard and with public dissatisfaction with his handling of a city budget hampered by state and federal cutbacks. Dissatisfaction with the city's schools has figured in as well, although the majority of parents with children in the public schools say the schools are good or excellent.
Bloomberg said Thursday that he remained proud of what the Department of Education had accomplished in his more than nine years in office, and dismissed critics who might call the announcement of Black's departure an indication that his third term had derailed.
"I think we're going to do more in our third term than we did in the second term, and the second term was better than the first term," he said. "The city continues to improve. ... Those are the things that history will show really made a difference."
Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said the announcement would be damaging in the short term but ultimately would serve the mayor well.
"If something doesn't work out, it's better to stop it fast," he said. "It shows that he's willing to make hard decisions even when they're unpleasant and communicate negatively about him."
Hours after the mayor's announcement, the state education commissioner who granted Black the waiver she needed to take the job announced he'd be leaving his post as well. David Steiner, who defied the wishes of an advisory panel to give Black permission to take the job despite her lack of credentials as an educator, said his departure had nothing to do with Black's and called it a coincidence.
Steiner had indicated he would give the green light to Black's appointment if Bloomberg elevated a deputy chancellor with an education background. The mayor eventually agreed to create the position of chief academic officer as a No. 2.
Walcott, too, will need a waiver, and Bloomberg said Thursday he believed one would be issued quickly. Walcott will report directly to the mayor, who will no longer have an education deputy at City Hall. The chief academic officer position will remain.
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.