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Bloomberg defends his private search and choice for chancellor

Mayor Michael Bloomberg fought against growing opposition to his selection of magazine publisher Cathie Black this morning, saying that he and Chancellor Joel Klein had “spent a lot of time finding the right person.” Bloomberg said he had been discussing Klein’s departure with him “for months” and only began to search for a successor in earnest once he “slowly…became convinced” that Klein truly intended to leave.

His remarks, on the John Gambling radio show this morning, described the search process:

Anybody that comes in wants to have a chance to really get up to speed and make a difference and stick with that difference and implement it and show that it works earlier rather than later. And we’d been talking about it for months, and I’ve been looking — at the beginning I wasn’t sure he [Klein] was serious, but slowly as I became convinced he was, I started looking — and he and I together spent a lot of time finding the right person.

The description follows a report in the New York Times that Klein himself only learned who his successor would be on Monday.

Black told the New York Post this week that the mayor offered her the job after approaching her a “couple of weeks ago on a Monday.” Black’s account, as reported in the Post, suggested that the mayor offered her the job at their first meeting:

Monday the mayor called, she told me. We know each other a long time. I didn’t know what he wanted. He only told me this was a personal call and he wanted to meet. I couldn’t exactly say, ‘Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I’m busy,’ but the fact is I had back-to-back meetings at Hearst, so I said I couldn’t today but could tomorrow.’ He said, ‘How’s 7 a.m. tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ We met in his foundation offices. The offer came out of left field, and my stomach did a flip-flop. The opportunity made me feel fantastic.

In her Post interview, Black described meeting with Klein for an hour and a half.

The mayor and City Hall officials have refused to give the names of other candidates they considered for the job and, thus far, no one has said they were interviewed. Bloomberg said today that after the announcement, several of his deputy mayors approached him to ask why they hadn’t been considered. “Sorry, you’ve got a job already,” he said he told them.

Today the mayor said his search process and the secrecy around it — few people knew of Black’s appointment until minutes before the announcement — was typical.

Nobody would talk to you about a job if it was in the public domain because it’s too embarrassing to them if they don’t get selected. Also, if you’re going to interview people who are already working someplace else, it leaves them in an impossible situation if they don’t get picked with where they work now. Nobody does a search in the open like that… …We have spent a lot of time looking around the world for the best people and we have a list of people in my mind and if anything else opens… I’m always trying to think if any of our commissioners or deputy mayors, you know, got hit by a truck — just a euphemism — I know pretty much who I would make my first call to to see if we could get somebody to fill in right away.

To those who doubt that Black is qualified for the job, the mayor said that being chancellor is about managing a massive system and doesn’t require a background in education.

“It just goes to show they have no understanding whatsoever what the job is,” he said.