Commentary Magazine


Topic: public safety

The Soda Ban and Helicopter-Mayoring

Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

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Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

New York State’s highest court today rejected the final appeal to keep the ban on large sodas in place. The New York Times headline on the story is “City Loses Final Appeal on Limiting Sales of Large Sodas,” but I think we’re all winners here, the city included. Bloomberg is to be commended for some of his policies: the full-throated defense of public safety chief among them. But Bloomberg got caught up in paternalistic social engineering and the soda ban was one of the most invasive–and illegal–results. The Times reports:

In a 20-page opinion, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the State Court of Appeals wrote that the city’s Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” in enacting the proposal, which was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The decision likely will be seen as a significant defeat for health advocates who have urged state and local governments to actively discourage the consumption of high-calorie beverages, saying the drinks are prime drivers of a nationwide epidemic of obesity.

Two lower courts had already sided against the city, saying it overreached in attempting to prohibit the purchase of sugared drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, about the size of a medium coffee cup. By a 4 to 2 vote, the justices upheld the earlier rulings.

In that article, however, you can see who Bloomberg’s real constituents were: first and foremost, the media. Proponents of intrusive statist powers are, according to the Times, “health advocates.” Simply because they say so. Even though some of the schemes the “health advocates” have pursued have been shown to produce exactly the opposite result–that is, the population’s choices become less healthy. But as with most liberal projects, the intentions are all that matter. Who wouldn’t want to ban large sodas? Think of the children.

The irony of the Bloomberg administration’s overreach on sugary drinks is that such helicopter-mayoring overshadowed other policies and came to identify him. He’s been replaced by a much more liberal politician, who may actually restore some of Bloomberg’s reputation. Say what you will about Bloomberg’s nanny statism, but he did not acquire his inspiration for public service by watching the Marxist Sandinistas.

Bloomberg’s record on public safety threatens to be undone by de Blasio, whose election ended the era of hugely popular and undeniably successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, after which the police were instructed to stop gun violence by smiling at passersby. It’s too early to say if the resulting recent spike in violent crime is here to stay, but all indications are that de Blasio’s terrible ideas about public safety are just as irresponsible and unserious as they seemed when they began emanating from Planet Brooklyn during the campaign.

The biggest initial threat to de Blasio’s public approval was his staunch opposition to charter schools. De Blasio prefers to delegate his education policy to the unions, with the result that minority students have even fewer opportunities. De Blasio soon realized that trashing proven educational opportunities perhaps struck the wrong “tone.” (We can cut de Blasio some slack here though: it’s doubtful the Sandinistas had anything to say about charter schools, so the mayor was learning on the job.)

De Blasio represents a different kind of progressivism than Bloomberg’s version of city governance. For Bloomberg, that has advantages. Had he been followed by a more conservative mayor, his successor would have simply built on the better policies Bloomberg instituted while quietly scrapping the restrictions on fizzy bubblech. Instead, he’s being followed by an ideologue testing the limits the people will place on his airy radicalism, using New Yorkers as crash-test dummies.

That may leave New Yorkers pining for Bloomberg, but there’s a caveat: de Blasio has so far shown himself responsive to public opinion. If that ends up curtailing his leftist impulses, such populism will distinguish itself from the pompous elitism with which New Yorkers had in recent years been treated.

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OWS: The Vagrants that Stole Halloween

To those outside of Lower Manhattan, it appears Occupy Wall Street has faded into obscurity. Unfortunately for some residents of New York City, the movement is still maintaining a presence on public property. After finally being ejected from Zuccotti Park after months of vandalism, violence and disruption, OWS hobos — I mean protesters — have taken up residence on the sidewalks outside Trinity Church, a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Episcopalians, not exactly known for being Christianity’s stalwarts of conservatism, aren’t happy about it.

This week Trinity Church announced that it would be canceling its annual Halloween celebration because the encampment makes the area around the church increasingly unsafe. In a statement issued on Sunday, Trinity’s Rev. James Cooper stated “Last year, more than 1,200 people took part. However, we are deeply concerned about the escalating illegal and abusive activity the camp presents.” Fox News went on to report,

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To those outside of Lower Manhattan, it appears Occupy Wall Street has faded into obscurity. Unfortunately for some residents of New York City, the movement is still maintaining a presence on public property. After finally being ejected from Zuccotti Park after months of vandalism, violence and disruption, OWS hobos — I mean protesters — have taken up residence on the sidewalks outside Trinity Church, a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Episcopalians, not exactly known for being Christianity’s stalwarts of conservatism, aren’t happy about it.

This week Trinity Church announced that it would be canceling its annual Halloween celebration because the encampment makes the area around the church increasingly unsafe. In a statement issued on Sunday, Trinity’s Rev. James Cooper stated “Last year, more than 1,200 people took part. However, we are deeply concerned about the escalating illegal and abusive activity the camp presents.” Fox News went on to report,

Linda Hanick, a spokeswoman for Trinity Church, said nine people have been arrested in connection to the encampment in the past two weeks, including a man who was arrested after he put an air horn to the ear of a longtime maintenance superintendent at the church on Oct. 11. The maintenance worker was “traumatized” by the incident, she said.

“The sidewalk is owned by the city, so we don’t have the legal power to remove people from the sidewalk, but it’s our responsibility to clean it,” she said. “We hose down the sidewalk and throw away the trash.”

Those cleanings, which occur twice daily at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., typically lead to a “tense situation,” Hanick said.

This isn’t Occupy’s first run-in with Trinity, either. After their eviction from Zuccotti Park, Occupiers stormed a vacant lot owned by Trinity, breaking their locks in order to gain access to the property. The liberal church, surprisingly, decided to press charges against the demonstrators for criminal trespassing, setting the stage for the hostile tone many Occupiers are now exhibiting toward the church, its congregants and its staff.

Where are Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly? It took the mayor over three months to order Kelly to clear Zuccotti of the protestors that led to a booming crime rate and a permeating aroma of urine and body odor. For local residents and businesses Occupy was, in every sense, a public safety risk that deserved forcible removal the day after tents were erected on public soil. Now, there is an escalating situation at Trinity that has impaired their ability to serve the local community. Occupy is in no sense a political movement on the sidewalk outside of Trinity, they are a hostile group of homeless squatters with a few incoherent politically-inspired cardboard signs. If the city decided that Occupy was dangerous enough to warrant removal from Zuccotti, they should (quickly) come to the same conclusion about Trinity.

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