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Mulgrew's first move: Reel in veteran press flak Dick Riley

I got my first phone call from Dick Riley very soon after I started covering education at U.S. News & World Report. “Elizabeth, Dick Riley. I’m going to win you a Pulitzer Prize some day,” he said in his gravelly between-you-and-me voice, before adding that he worked for Kaplan, the test prep company.

Maybe he’ll finally come through in his new role: press secretary to new teachers union president Michael Mulgrew. Mulgrew made the announcement today, marking his first public decision since taking over for Randi Weingarten. (Though he did outline his priorities this summer — save the schools budget! get a contract!) The appointment undoes a decision Weingarten made several months ago, to appoint longtime deputy press secretary Ron Davis to the top press spot.

But Mulgrew is not straying too far from his predecessor; Riley also served as Weingarten’s press secretary when she first became UFT president 10 years ago. Appointing him is a smart choice if Mulgrew wants to build his own version of Weingarten’s tight relationships with reporters — and get his name in the papers as much as she did. Riley returns phone calls in seconds and loves to have friendly chat with reporters. Other jobs he’s held include working for Mayor Ed Koch’s press shop, running press at the old Board of Education, and (until today) serving as press secretary to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Davis, a former newspaperman who joined the union’s press shop many years ago and remained deputy press secretary for many years as person after person was appointed press secretary over his head, will stay inside the union, Mulgrew told me on the phone today. “Ron is a valued employee. He’s still here. I need to talk to him before I say exactly what it is, but it’s something very good,” Mulgrew said. “We’re fine.”

Next question: What other staffing changes has Mulgrew made without fanfare? In several conversations today, sources pointed out the delicate position he’s in: He has to prove himself as a boss, so he’s got to build a staff that’s his. But he’s also a union boss, and so kicking out people who aren’t his is tricky. We’ll be watching.

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