CINCINNATI – When Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley first spoke to Baltimore's finance director, he said he knew he had a great candidate for the next city manager.
Harry Black, 51, has managed Baltimore's finances since July 2012 and has an extensive resume.
When Cranley interviewed him for the first time, it was over Skype. During their first conversation, Cranley said he asked Black what he would do if he saw a pothole in the street.
“He said he would take it very personally because that reflects on him,” Cranley said. “…That’s exactly what I’m looking for… I’m looking for someone who’s going to take ownership.”
Cranley nominated Black Wednesday as the city’s next city manager.
Other than his time in Baltimore, Black has served as:
- Executive Vice President & COO at Global Commerce Solutions, Inc.
- Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CFO) for the City of Richmond, Virginia
- Vice President and Program Manager at McKissack & McKissack
- Deputy Chief Procurement Officer and Director of Budget and Finance for the District of Columbia Government
- Assistant Director of Fiscal Management and Investments at New York State Insurance Fund
- Assistant Director of Special Projects at the City of New York Mayor's Office of Contracts
Vice Mayor David Mann said he’s already met with Black, and thinks his experience outside of Cincinnati will help him take on the city’s finances in a unique way.
“He takes up his responsibilities without any pre-existing relationship,” Mann said. “Sometimes, when you come in from outside, you can do things that you can't do if you come up through the organization."
Black says he’s a family man, and is married with two children. Growing up in the Lower Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore, he said he became well acquainted with obstacles.
"Our neighborhood was pretty tough," he said. "It had everything you’d expect in a hardcore, inner-city area. My brothers and I would take turns walking (our mom) to work."
In his current position as Baltimore’s finance director, Black has safeguarded the city’s fiscal integrity, overseeing a $3.3 billion all-funds budget, Cranley’s office said.
Baltimore has 620,000 residents and a 15,000 member municipal workforce. It is the 26th largest city in the United States.
During Black’s tenure in July, Standard & Poor’s raised Baltimore's bond rating to AA, up from AA-minus. The agency also raised the city's appropriation-backed debt rating to AA-minus, up from A-plus.
Among the factors S&P cited for the improved ratings was a 10-year financial plan crafted and implemented by Black’s office.
But he’s not a man without controversy.
As Richmond, Virginia’s CFO between 2003 and 2007, Black was called the mayor’s “pit bull,” The Baltimore Brew reports.
The daily online news outlet says Black caught the attention of the public and press after Richmond’s mayor wanted to force the city school board to accept an outside audit of its finances. Black then withheld half of the board’s non-payroll funds and tried to evict them from their offices, the website reports.
Cranley called The Baltimore Brew's report Wednesday "silly," saying, "This was a blog... and (Black's colleagues) say that he’s a very sensitive person who is open and transparent."
According to Cranley, Black has long-term plans to stay in Cincinnati.
"I promised my daughter, who is 12 (years old), that good, bad or indifferent, she will graduate high school here," Black told the mayor.
Every Cincinnati City Council member had an hour to interview Black. They could then request follow-up meetings, Cranley said.
A majority of City Council must approve Cranley’s recommendation for Black to get the job. If he is approved, he will begin the second week of September.
Black answered questions from the media about Wednesday's announcement at a press conference Thursday morning.
“We hope everyone gets excited and welcomes him to Cincinnati,” Cranley said.
Black isn't Cranley's first nomination for city manager.
After Milton Dohoney Jr. resigned from the position in November 2013, Cranley nominated Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden Jr.
But just nine days after his nomination was announced, Carden withdrew his name from consideration.
“After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department,” Carden said in a prepared statement on Dec. 6. “John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But, it’s simply about what is best for me and my family."
Cranley, who announced Carden’s nomination on Nov. 27 in a splashy press conference at Krohn Conservatory, said he was saddened by the decision – but understood that family considerations take precedence.
"I am disappointed that Willie Carden won’t be our next city manager,” Cranley said. “He would have done a phenomenal job. But I respect his family’s decision and I am confident that we will find a great city manager who will help us move Cincinnati forward.”
When Dohoney resigned from the position, it was before Cranley took office on Dec. 1.
The announcement of his resignation capped five days of tense negotiations, which began when Cranley met privately with Dohoney. Cranley said Dohoney’s departure was “by mutual agreement.”
“I have nothing but respect for Milton,” Cranley said after the November announcement. “I voted to hire him, but we have agreed to go in different directions. I wish him nothing but the best.”
In his job as city manager, Dohoney managed municipal government’s daily operations, was responsible for a $1 billion annual budget and a 5,600-member workforce.
During his tenure, Dohoney shepherded two major projects that Cranley campaigned against – the city’s streetcar project and leasing the city’s parking system to the Port Authority.
WCPO's Evan Millward contributed to this report.
WATCH the video player above to see Evan's full interview with Black.