New York, NY – Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been frank about why he took pains to keep his search for a new schools chancellor secret, saying he wanted to avoid a public spectacle.
But a spectacle is exactly what Mr. Bloomberg has unleashed, and one week after announcing his choice of Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive, to succeed Joel I. Klein at the helm of the country’s largest school system, the mayor’s aides are trying to fend off mounting skepticism about her selection.
City Council members are asking the state to deny Ms. Black the waiver she would need to fill the post. Lawmakers and parents active in the schools are calling for public hearings. Even some of the mayor’s supporters are questioning his decision.
The leader of the city’s teachers’ union said the furor underscored how poorly he believed Mr. Bloomberg had handled Ms. Black’s selection.
“This woman is under complete attack,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. “You should manage the process so you don’t leave the candidate open for attack right from the beginning.”
Ms. Black has repeatedly declined interviews, allowing other voices to fill the void. Some have called her a second coming of Mr. Klein, often criticized as stubborn. Her harshest detractors have compared her to Sarah Palin for her lack of experience.
The uproar has frustrated City Hall aides, who feel as if they have lost control of the story line and who are looking for ways to beat back accusations that Ms. Black is unqualified, said an individual close to the process who requested anonymity for fear of upsetting the mayor.
Education officials portrayed the opposition as dominated by people fundamentally opposed to the idea of mayoral control over the city’s schools.
“In 2002, there was very similar criticism of both the mayor’s selection process and his choice of Joel Klein,” Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in a statement. “Eight years later, Joel is widely acknowledged to be a transformative figure in public education. So the idea that someone from outside the education field can’t be successful here is just false.”
The opposition has coalesced slowly, partly because of the mayor’s tight grip on the city’s political sphere, which is strengthened by his popularity and his vast financial resources.
To take office, Ms. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, needs a waiver from the state to bypass rules requiring the chancellor to hold specific education credentials. Mr. Bloomberg plans to submit a letter to the state this week arguing that Ms. Black’s business acumen is needed in a time of financial peril.
The letter will be made public in an effort to dispel some of the unflattering depictions.
Mr. Bloomberg said Monday that he was confident the controversy would die down and that Ms. Black would receive a waiver. “This is a woman who is eminently qualified,” he said at a news conference.
The mayor also defended the way he chose Ms. Black. “You don’t go and call everybody and say, ‘Do you want to apply publicly?’ ” he said. “That’s just not the way you would get the best and brightest.”
When the mayor introduced Ms. Black last week, the path to a waiver seemed smoother. But there are growing calls for a heightened scrutiny of her résumé.
Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, asked Mr. Bloomberg on Monday to hold a public forum with Ms. Black. “Her views on education and her plans for the nation’s largest school system are largely unknown,” Mr. de Blasio wrote in a letter to the mayor.
The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, said a discussion of the waiver request should be held at a meeting of the mayor’s educational advisory board on Tuesday.
Mr. Stringer said state law required the mayor to consult with the board, but lawyers for the city released a three-page memorandum later in the day disputing his reasoning.
City Council members have also expressed concern about Ms. Black’s appointment, with 13 of 51 members saying they plan to sign a resolution calling on the state to deny her a waiver.
The mayor also faces reservations from several education experts, including some who have supported him.
“I would be much happier if she were an educator,” said Augusta Souza Kappner, the former president of Bank Street College of Education who had been a member of Mr. Bloomberg’s advisory board on education. “There are educators who have the same kind of managerial and big-system skills that I read is her strong suit.”
Eva S. Moskowitz, chief executive of the Success Charter Network, which includes the Harlem Success Academy, a network of charter schools, said Ms. Black would need to acquire the political skills that the job requires.
“Everyone’s worrying about her education knowledge and background, but it’s hard to have someone teach you the politics,” Ms. Moskowitz said. “That’s going to be quite a challenge.”
Eli Broad, a billionaire donor to education causes who supports Ms. Black’s appointment, said she would have to work to win over skeptics.
“She clearly has to do her homework,” Mr. Broad said. “She’s got to be visiting with a lot of people that have been in education for many years.”
In the meantime, Mr. Bloomberg has dispatched his top deputies to help prepare Ms. Black for her debut. On Monday, two deputy mayors and a legislative aide were seen outside her offices at Hearst Tower in Midtown.
Ms. Black has been immersing herself in the issues of education, including budgets and reading curriculum, the individual close the process said. She is also spending time reaching out to elected officials, labor leaders, scholars and education leaders, including Michelle A. Rhee, a former Washington schools chancellor, in hopes of building a broader base of support.