Some are calling incoming Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott the "anti-Cathie Black," as he assumes the role with a deep familiarity with city schools and a long history of working the local political system. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
With a bump of the fist from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dennis Walcott effectively took over the city school system Thursday, and introduced himself as a hometown boy made good.
“I’m just a guy from Queens whose parents were raised in Harlem. My grandparents immigrated from the Caribbean. And I currently live in Queens," said Walcott. "I’m just a city guy.”
He is also a product of city schools. Born and raised in southeast Queens, Walcott attended P.S. 36 and later Francis Lewis High School, where, according to his senior yearbook, he was in the senior band and orchestra.
After some time teaching kindergarten and doing other community work, Walcott became head of the New York Urban League in 1990, advocating for education and better police-community relations. But he was known as a conciliator, even coming under pressure for not participating in civil disobedience after the Amadou Diallo shooting in 1999.
“It’s important for me to try to be out there, to talk to different people within the administration, and arrests may preclude that,” said Walcott at the time
Walcott was also appointed to the Board of Education by Mayor David Dinkins. Ayo Harrington, the former president of the United Parents Association, worked closely with him at the time and called him a listener.
“He was a person who believed that parents should not be only behind the bake sale table, but they should actually be at the board table. And we were -- often," said Harrington.
In 1995, Walcott was part of a group that sued to block a bus and subway fare increase. Even his co-plaintiffs remember him as someone who knew how to work the system.
“He had a lot of back-channel connections to city hall during the [Rudolph] Giuliani administration," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "And he asked them about whether they were interested in participating in the lawsuit and it got serious consideration and discussion. And I think he’s always known how to pull the strings of government.”
Walcott’s transformation into a political insider became official in December 2001, when then-Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg tapped him as deputy mayor for policy.”
Now nine years later, Walcott is taking on a new role, though Bloomberg said Thursday he will continue to take the salary of a deputy mayor, which is lower than that of chancellor.