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In mayoral chatter, a name surfaces from the education world

Talk is swirling that an unexpected contender from the education world is being drafted to run for mayor of New York City: Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents.

Education, political, government insiders, and Tisch herself say Tisch has been courted by political consultants as a potential candidate to succeed Mayor Bloomberg. The election is still two years out, but so far no clear favorite has emerged from the crowded field of Democratic hopefuls. Even more room is open in the thin slate of independent and Republican candidates. And so far no candidate fits the mold that Bloomberg has established: nonpartisan, well-connected, and wealthy enough to fund a campaign without making many promises.

Some believe the charismatic Tisch, a registered Democrat from the billionaire Tisch family, could emerge as someone to fill that void. More than a half dozen government and education officials, most of whom only spoke anonymously because they didn’t want to speculate, confirmed her name has been surfacing since last year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised so you can’t count her out yet,” said a source.

Longtime New York City political consultant George Artz said he had also heard the chatter but doubted that Tisch would actually run. At this point, he said, a lot of names are being thrown around, including that of Tisch’s own brother-in-law, Jonathan Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels. Still, Artz said, Merryl Tisch had the pedigree to be a solid candidate.

“I wouldn’t be stunned by it,” Artz said. “Merryl’s been around and she obviously has substance, contacts and money – all the ingredients you need to run for political office.”

This week, Tisch acknowledged the speculation, but characterized any notion that she’s actively considering it as “gossip.”

“I am aware that people are talking about it,” Tisch said. “I am not an idiot.”

“Have people mentioned it to me? Yes. Have I considered it? I am so busy with my work right now, it’s ridiculous.”

Tisch, a former teacher who has served on the Board of Regents since 1996, was elected chancellor in 2009, just in time to oversee the procurement and implementation of New York State’s $700 million Race To The Top grant. In her short time as chancellor, she’s earned a reputation as a knowledgeable and hard-working consensus builder who played a key role in negotiations between the teachers unions and education reformers during the grant’s application process.

In 2004, Tisch mulled a run at an open City Council seat, but ultimately decided not to, she said, because she enjoyed her work too much on the Board. Over the years, however, she’s remained active politically, donating more than $50,000 to a variety of candidates, mostly Democratic candidates, according to campaign finance filings.

This time around, Tisch said she isn’t even pondering the prospect of a political run. “I am absolutely, positively not going to run,” she said.

A lifelong Democrat, Tisch said she would “never enter a Democratic primary” and even offered explicit approval for a leading – if tentative – Republican candidate.

“If Ray Kelly gets the nomination on the GOP ticket, I think he would be a great candidate.”