By John Byrne
6:49 PM EDT, August 23, 2013
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard chided former boss Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week in an interview from the safety of his new post at an East Coast educational organization, saying the mayor needs to “learn to let go and allow his managers to lead.”
In an interview with the Fordham Institute, Brizard also said the administration was caught flat-footed last year by the strength of the Chicago Teachers Union’s organizing power during the first walk-out in Chicago in 25 years.
“We severely underestimated the ability of the Chicago Teachers Union to lead a massive grassroots campaign against our administration,” Brizard is quoting as saying in the interview.
Brizard parted ways with Emanuel after the seven-school-day teacher strike in September 2012, telling the Tribune that “the mayor should have the CEO he wants to have.”
Brizard said talking to people about his new boss ahead of time didn’t prepare him for working for Emanuel when he took over in Chicago as the mayor’s hand-picked schools CEO in May 2011. Brizard came from a similar job leading the Rochester, NY, school district.
“I received a ton of advice on how to work with and for him, but in hindsight, few of these pieces of advice were helpful,” Brizard said in the interview. “MRE was always ‘on’ and a master at managing media. He is actually best when he is not on stage.”
“While I never experienced the man with the ‘reputation,’ I certainly can see that possible side,” Brizard added. “I experienced a man who loves his family dearly and is frustrated by the challenges of a school system in crisis and a crime situation that is making international headlines.”
Calling Emanuel a micro-manager isn’t exactly a revelation. He has carefully cultivated a reputation as a hands-on, type-A leader. “Patience is not one of my strong suits,” the mayor is fond of reminding reporters when launching a new initiative.
But Emanuel also inspires a certain level of fear from subordinates, in no small part because he has stoked the legend of his own mean streak. So it’s rare to see a former employee take even gentle pokes at him.
“MRE and I disagreed on process at times, and it was unfortunate that he never really got to know me. I appreciated his leadership, but his one challenge is to learn to let go and allow his managers to lead,” Brizard said.
Brizard, now an adviser at the College Board, which administers the SAT exam, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Emanuel and Brizard’s successor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have been making appearances around Chicago this week in preparation for classes beginning Monday at many public schools. With thousands of students heading to new buildings because the mayor closed dozens of public schools,Emanuel has been trying to focus the public on the steps he’s taking to attempt to make children’s commutes safer.
Asked to comment Friday on Brizard’s thoughts about the mayor, Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton released a statement: “We appreciate Mr. Brizard’s service during the time he was here. We are focused on the first day of school next week and looking forward.”
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