By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended new Schools Chancellor Cathie Black Monday morning, several days after she joked that birth control would solve the school overcrowding problem downtown.
Bloomberg said Black is still figuring out the difference between the private sector, where she spent most of her career, and the public sector.
"I think she'll learn slowly over time, as did I, that you can do some things in the private sector you can't do in the public sector," Bloomberg said Monday, according to the New York Post. "In the public sector, people parse what you say and take it in different ways than they would in the private sector."
Bloomberg's defense of Black came after Black called Community Board 1 Chairwoman Julie Menin on Sunday to apologize for the flip remarks.
"She said she was very sorry if her comments offended anyone," Menin said, "and she said she was very sorry if she gave the impression that she didn’t take the overcrowding issue very seriously."
Black made the crack during last Thursday’s meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding taskforce, and also offended some present by comparing the difficulty of prioritizing one neighborhood’s needs over another to a "Sophie’s choice," an allusion to the story of a mother in Auschwitz who must decide which of her children will die. Menin and others felt the round of comments were inappropriate.
Menin said she accepted Black’s apology, news of which was first reported by the New York Post, although Black did not say which of her comments she specifically regretted. The phone conversation during the halftime of the Jets game lasted several minutes, Menin said.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn commended Black for doing the right thing by apologizing.
"She made a mistake. You wouldn’t call and apologize to someone if you didn’t think you had made a mistake. I think that was clearly the right thing to do and I can’t image she won’t learn from this experience," Quinn told reporters in Harlem Monday.
She said she hoped Black would now be able to go back to doing her job.
"We need our chancellors to be the best they can be and we need them not to get distracted and make mistakes that take them away from the really high priority things day-to-day," she said.
"Hopefully we can move beyond the mistake she made."
It was unclear if Black had contacted any of the other attendees at last week's meeting, which included several elected officials along with local principals, school staff and parents.
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menin now hopes to turn the discussion back to the more important issue at hand: the need for more elementary seats downtown. Parents are already predicting kindergarten waitlists for this fall, and by 2015, parents estimate that lower Manhattan will be short 1,000 elementary seats.
"While I appreciate the apology, my real concern is to make sure we have a long-range planning [to address] the overcrowding," Menin said. "The most important thing now is [Black’s] actions."