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Bloomberg’s “Inner Circle” Pick Has Little Experience

December 1, 2009

Trust might be running low in Bloomberg’s camp after his razor-thin victory earlier this fall in the race for mayor. The Times is reporting that Bloomberg remains committed to a sweeping agenda (much of which we have yet to see delivered, frankly) but has chosen a callow, inexperienced environmental commissioner. His choice might say more about his perception of his administration and his need for individuals loyal to him more than necessarily the goals of his third term.

Here’s the story:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he will remain vastly ambitious in his third term, and is committed to a sweeping environmental agenda.

But on Monday, after conducting a 13-month international search for a new environmental commissioner, he chose a 36-year-old City Hall aide who has scant experience in the field.

The appointment of Caswell F. Holloway IV, who since 2006 has served as chief of staff to Edward Skyler, a deputy mayor, raised the eyebrows of some policy experts and leaders of good-government groups. They said the move signaled that the mayor was increasingly relying on a tight-knit inner circle at a time when he could benefit from fresh energy and new perspectives.

The mayor’s staff described Mr. Holloway as a deft behind-the-scenes problem-solver who pushed through a plan for a citywide waste management system, over the objections of a state lawmaker; oversaw the collection of human remains found at ground zero years after the attack; and drew up plans to revive the unsightly Gowanus Canal.

The mayor said Mr. Holloway’s background “qualifies him superbly for his new position,” which has a salary of $205,000.

But his selection left some in the environmental world scratching their heads. “Wow,” said Peggy M. Shepard, executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice and a member of the mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board. “I am not at all familiar with this person.”

After an election that exposed simmering anger over the mayor’s sometimes imperious management style, Mr. Bloomberg had vowed to shake up his staff by injecting new blood into his eight-year-old administration, which is overseen by a handful of loyal aides who followed him from the gleaming headquarters of his company, Bloomberg LP, to City Hall.

Yet in announcing his selection of Mr. Holloway, the mayor observed that he “worked a couple of desks away from me.”

Said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, which monitors city government, “This seems like musical chairs more than genuine change.”

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that Mr. Holloway’s appointment was somewhat unusual, recalling that most of the mayor’s appointments have been of experienced outsiders. The aides said that a mix of internal and external candidates would benefit the city.

With a budget of $1 billion and a work force of 6,000, the Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for maintaining the safety of the city’s air and water supply and collecting sewage. The agency does not develop environmental policy, a task handled by the mayor’s sustainability office. But the agency plays a crucial role in shaping and enforcing those policies.

“Few agencies of city government have duties as important or as extensive as D.E.P. does,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

The position remained unfilled for a year, with an acting commissioner running the agency as the city searched for a permanent replacement.

More than 75 people were interviewed by a search committee, and Mr. Bloomberg interviewed 6 candidates.

But none of the other candidates had Mr. Holloway’s insider experience or his ties to those making the final call: Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Skyler, who has known Mr. Holloway for at least a decade, since the two worked together at the city’s parks department. In fact, Mr. Holloway recently completed an in-depth review of the agency’s operations, and his recommendations impressed the mayor.

Eric A. Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Mr. Holloway was a “quick study” who had “engaged in a lot of different issues and quickly got into the nitty-gritty details.” But Mr. Goldstein added that Mr. Holloway’s main qualification was that “he has the mayor’s ear.”

Other officials said that Mr. Holloway seemed to almost magically resolve disputes, a crucial skill for a job that involves dealing with the layers of regulators who enforce environmental rules on the city. Stuart F. Gruskin, executive deputy commissioner with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said, “I don’t know who he calls, but he gets it and figures out how to solve the problem.”

The promotion seemed to reinforce the growing influence of Mr. Skyler, who oversees a broad swath of city government, including the police, fire, transportation and environmental agencies. It was on his recommendation that the mayor chose Bradley Tusk to run his campaign for a third term. Mr. Tusk, like Mr. Holloway, worked with Mr. Skyler at the parks department.

The mayor’s aides seemed especially sensitive to questions about Mr. Holloway’s lack of environmental experience, and on Monday afternoon they asked several people to call The New York Times and praise Mr. Holloway’s record, the people said.

“I think it’s a brilliant appointment,” said Louis J. Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

Good-government groups said Mr. Holloway had an impressive reputation. But several said it was crucial for Mr. Bloomberg to be open to outsiders’ ideas.

Mr. Holloway’s experience stood in marked contrast with that of Vincent N. Schiraldi, whom the mayor appointed as commissioner of probation on Monday. Mr. Schiraldi has worked in his field for more than 25 years, most recently running the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in Washington.


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