Monday, May 06, 2013


Cathie Black email quest was a good example of a freedom of information fight

by Larry Geller

It was a David vs. Goliath story—Intern vs. Mayor: Battle Bares Bloomberg’s Argument for Secrecy (ProPublica, 5/6/2013) relates how a  $300 a week blogger for The Village Voice newspaper took on the world’s richest politician, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and wrested from hizzoner a series of emails related to the appointment and hiring of schools chancellor Cathie Black.

The emails themselves are not terribly interesting, especially to those of us reading them from far away. It’s the struggle to keep public records accessible to the public that is remarkable, and the blogger, Sergio Hernandez, deserves credit for lining up the support (including legal support) that ultimately did the trick. Hernandez does know something about shaking loose government emails—see his article A Reader’s Guide to the (Still Coming) Sarah Palin Emails (ProPublica, 6/10/2011). Anyone involved in a contentious battle over public records might learn from his examples.

The emails reveal how Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities were recruited to help slide Cathy Black into office as chancellor of the New York City school system. Ho, hum. Except that it didn’t work in the end, and Black resigned. Still, was this worth fighting for all the way up to New York’s highest court? Yes. Now no city email is safe, which is how it should be. Except in certain cases, the New York public should have improved access to the workings of its government.

We might also be interested in the story of Cathy Black’s appointment because Ms. Black has a counterpart here in Hawaii. Kathryn Matayoshi similarly has a business background rather than educational credentials, yet she still presides over Hawaii’s entire school system (see: A tale of two Cathies—New York parents rejected a school chancellor with no educational background, Hawaii parents did not (5/5/2013).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has something of a counterpart in businessman Don Horner, who heads the Board of Education, though he’s presumably not in Bloomberg’s income class. Check out his bio here.


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