Monday, November 02, 2009

Eight IS Enough

Nostrand Park was kind enough to ask, but I'm just going to say it: Eight is Enough. The folks who voted at Nostrand Park's poll agree with me. The voters who went to the primaries and the runoff elections agreed with me, electing two vocal opponents of the term-limit extension. The whole city agreed with me, voting in favor of term limits not once but twice. Bloomberg himself agreed with me as recently as 2005, when he called attempts to subvert the will of the people and repeal or change term limits "disgraceful." The mayor has lavished a ludicrous amount of money on his current campaign, 14 times what Bill Thompson has spent, in an attempt to make the issue go away, but it remains central to the campaign. Should we re-elect an effective, successful mayor who saw fit to run roughshod over the restrains put on his power by the people of New York City?

Bloomberg will almost certainly win today, in part because of his bottomless campaign coffers, in part because of the recognition and prestige afforded by incumbency (as well as all the campaign-trail arguments about experience and continuity), and in part because many people think he's the best man for the job. These individuals will argue that even if leading the charge to change term limits was a bad call on the mayor's part, the election should always be about giving New York City over to the most capable pair of hands. We may have a hard time getting past a blatant smothering of democracy by a billionaire, they say, but that's over and done with, and the question now is which candidate would make the best mayor.

In truth, the two questions can't be disentangled. Bloomberg's decision to mow down term limits reveals a disdain for popular opinion and the democratic process that cannot be set aside once he retains his last of three terms. Even if you think this is a one-time thing, it's extremely troubling, but this isn't new behavior. The two photos above speak volumes about the way the mayor's modus operandi shifts as he deals with different social classes. In 2003, Snapple was awarded an exclusive five-year contract, essentially a sweetheart deal, by the mayor's team to put their products in NYC schools. Thompson, to his credit, opposed the move. When the handling of the contract bid was criticized, as was Snapple's product placement, the mayor called it "political red tape." Snapple's in-school products may be relatively healthy (100% juice, which their retail products are not), but their presence is obviously to build brand loyalty that translates to bigger sales of their high-calorie sugar chugs outside school doors.

Six years later, Bloomberg has just launched his latest anti-obesity ads, which include images of Snapple bottles, and tell straphangers not to "drink themselves fat" by "pouring on the pounds." My day job is in health and fitness education, and while I think educating the public about calorie intake is one of Bloomberg's better moves, I don't like these ads at all. They essentially call people fat, which is ineffective if you're trying to motivate people to change their lifestyle and substitutes a re-iteration of American body-image insecurities for real education. Besides, if you want people to drink less Snapple, it would be far more effective to keep it out of schools than to insult people on the subway. The administration's double-standard here demonstrates an uncomfortable politics that takes a patronizing, stern parent approach to the hoi palloi while making deals with corporations.

Finally, Bloomberg recently struck a local nerve, deploying Rudy Giuliani to stoke fear and racism by raising the specter of the Crown Heights Riots in bashing Bill Thompson. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and while Mike Bloomberg may have been a good mayor, his recent behavior is not commensurate with the preservation of functional democracy in New York City. On that note, I'm volunteering for Mark Winston Griffith in a few hours, so I'm going to bed. Vote today!


  1. Will Bloomberg "almost certainly win."? As I write this at about 5P.M. Tuesday, I am heartened by the number of posts on the many blogs and sites pertaining to the race that support Thompson. It's still too early to tell but.....
    Re the Mayor; he always seems to want it both ways. While one may applaud his removing smoking from inside bars as being health conscious, surely, living where you do, you see the abundance of never ending bars that have opened up in the last few years. And though one can see the anti-smoking adds everywhere, both on TV and print, has the city ever expressed any outrage about the amount of alcohol imbibed on any given day, especially by younger people as they endlessly bar hop?

  2. That's not a Snapple being poured --look at the shape of the bottle! It's part of his anti-soda ads that are going throughout the city. New, smaller sized cans of Coke come out in NYC soon due to these ads and a proposed soda tax is being discussed.

  3. You're right, that specific ad shows a Coke bottle, not a Snapple. However, there are Snapple bottles in the ads too, I just couldn't find one on the train when I decided to write this post. Don't get me wrong, I think Bloomberg's work on anti-obesity health stuff has been great, and I think soda and other sugary beverages like Snapple need to be targeted specifically. My issue is with the specific language of the "pouring on the pounds" ads, for two key reasons:

    1. It's ineffective. The Madison Avenue logic employed is shock-and-awe, trying to drive home the unhealthiness of sugary drinks. Good message, but wrong tactic, because studies show that the people really at risk for obesity-related illness (those who are already overweight and children) don't respond well, or really at all, to negative reinforcement. Asking people if they're fat does just that--it might remind the upper-middle-class demographic that Bloomberg's team is always thinking about to avoid these drinks, but it basically calls those are most at risk fat.

    2. These ads aren't educative (unlike the excellent calorie-counting ones that ran when the calorie counts at restaurants were introduced). There's no information about the calorie intake, or the dangers of obesity, or anything, just some small print about drinking water, seltzer (hello, Upper East Side) or skim milk. They take a shortcut by using body image insecurities instead of providing real information about health, one that might work for those on the cusp but futhers the marginalization of those most at risk. We'd do well to remember that depression is one of the leading obesity-related illnesses.

    In conclusion, Bloomberg's overall fight on these issues = good, these particular ads = not so much. And it remains the case that he gave Snapple a sweetheart deal for five years in NYC schools while he was fighting these issues out of the other side of his mouth.

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