New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has probably done more than any politician to try to save us from ourselves. One of his first big moves as mayor was to push through a simultaneous ban on smoking indoors and a sharp hike in cigarette taxes. He followed that up with bans on smoking in parks, serving food with trans-fats in restaurants, and selling large-size sugary drinks — the latter now being contested in court — as well as various policies to encourage biking and walking over driving.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg struck perhaps his final big blow for public health: The New York City Council voted to raise the age limit to buy tobacco products to 21, from 18; ban discount cigarettes; and set a price floor of $10.50 a pack. Why the final blow? Bloomberg won't be mayor forever: After 12 years and three terms, voters are picking his replacement in less than a week.
Barring a monumental upset, voters will chose Democrat Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate, who's up about 40 points over Republican Joe Lhota. There's certainly some evidence that New Yorkers are growing tired of their billionaire mayor and his crusades for the public good: The candidate most associated with Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), flamed out in the Democratic primary. Quinn just helped push through the 21-and-up cigarette deal.
The New York Post's Seth Lipsky sees a "great anti-Bloomberg revolt" starting to bubble up not only in the courts, but also the ballot booth. "Bill de Blasio's great scoop in New York's mayoral campaign was grasping how much resentment has built up here in New York to Bloomberg's methodology," he argues. Specifically, he says:
It's the sense that Bloomberg has taken voters for granted that de Blasio has tapped in to. At least so far, Lhota has run his campaign for mayor without addressing this issue. He hasn't challenged Bloombergism — or, for that matter, defended the Republican Party or even stood up for his original patron, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. [NY Post]
You might expect "anti-Bloomberg candidate" de Blasio — "he of anti-stop and frisk, tale of two cities" — to oppose Bloomberg's "nanny state" health-conscious policies, and "pro-Bloomberg candidate" Lhota to support them, says Ti-Hua Chang at New York's Fox 5 News. But that's not necessarily true, "at least at first." The big change de Blasio's promising is in process: Unlike the patrician Bloomberg, "de Blasio will delay additional changes until there is input" from the community.
Like any candidate up 40 points in the polls a week before an election, de Blasio doesn't seem eager to get too specific on issues when he doesn't have to. In his final debate with Lhota on Wednesday night, both candidates opposed banning smoking on sidewalks, except at the entrance of buildings, and they mostly disagreed over leadership styles and philosophies.
That's promising for opponents of Bloombergism. But they shouldn't get their hopes too high.
When asked by The Wall Street Journal about the upcoming hike in the legal smoking age, the de Blasio camp didn't respond, while Lhota said he opposed it — not because he dislikes the idea, necessarily, but because the smoking age in New Jersey and Long Island is 19 and "it is not smart policy to make New York City's counties inconsistent with counties on our borders."
As a newly minted city councilman, de Blasio supported Bloomberg's first big indoor smoking ban. But according to aides quoted in a New York Times profile of the candidate, that was more a tactical decision about trying to work with the more conservative mayor "in hopes of being seen as a potential partner" to advance issues de Blasio cares more about, like affordable housing and expanding subsidized child care.
De Blasio gave "vague signals" about the controversial Big Gulp ban during the campaign, but "finally came forward and promised he would continue Bloomberg's efforts" to fight for the ban in court, says Jack Minor at US Finance Post. "The ban has become the subject of ridicule in the blogosphere and on talk radio, with critics calling it a nanny state," but de Blasio will apparently "continue Bloomberg food police policy."
De Blasio says he agrees that the ban on outsize soft drinks in restaurants will help combat childhood obesity, but he explains his support as just another harried New York City parent:
I have two teenagers, I’m surviving the experience, and [wife] Chirlane and I spent a lot of time working to make sure Chiara and Dante are healthy. That means encouraging nutrition, that means encouraging exercise. But, you know, it takes a lot of energy to keep on top kids and make sure they do the right thing.... Unfortunately, as parents, it feels like every day we’re fighting an enemy and that is the growing availability of bigger and bigger sugary drinks. [Politicker]
The bottom line seems to be that while "de Blasio is a frequent critic of the Bloomberg administration and based much of his mayoral bid on promising a 'clean break'" from the mayor, says Ross Barkan at the New York Observer's Politicker, "the two often see eye-to-eye when it comes to matters of public health."
Still, Mayor de Blasio probably won't be as heavy-handed as Bloomberg — less a nanny and more an encouraging older brother. A lot of Bloomberg's policies are already law, and if de Blasio doesn't oppose those policies, he probably won't scale them back significantly — what politician would? But it's unlikely he'll be as aggressive in pushing for big new ways to protect you from your more self-destructive impulses and habits.
Assuming de Blasio is elected next Tuesday, New York City will soon find out what kind of mayor it's getting. But here's something you can take to the bank, says Fox 5's Chang: "One Bloomberg ban no one questions and no one believes will go away is the smoking ban for indoors and some parks. It has become an established, accepted way of life and copied through the world."
Watch Fox 5's entire take below: