When Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed making it illegal for restaurants, delis, stadiums, theaters and street vendors to sell sodas over 16 oz., he knew he was picking a fight with a powerful enemy. Much like the other groups whose interests the mayor has taken a stance against — the teachers union, the tobacco industry and Occupy Wall Street, to name a few — big soda immediately launched a counter-attack that included some feisty advertisements. A group called NYC Liberty HQ launched a “Million Big Gulp March,” which only mustered some two dozen attendees, according to CBS New York.
While Bloomberg has picked, won and lost high-profile political battles throughout his three terms (the third terms itself being a huge victory), this year the mayor has been particularly hard hit by some of his more provocative policy pushes.
Two of those hits came in the form of back-to-back court rulings in July. On July 11, Hon. Joan Lobis of the State Supreme Court ruled against the city’s request to suspend an arbitrator’s decision from June, which halted the city’s plan to fire 4,000 teachers in 24 “turnaround schools.” This was quite a blow to Bloomberg, who is the rare mayor in the country who can boast official control of schools.
The turnaround method, which allows schools to receive federal aid by replacing half of the staff at a school that’s deemed failing, was an important component of the mayor’s education reform strategy, and could cost the city up to $60 million in federal school improvement funds.
While the mayor didn’t release a statement on the judge’s decision, the New York Times SchoolBook called it “a setback” for Bloomberg.
A day earlier, on July 10, a piece of another one of Bloomberg’s long-term policies, restrictions on smoking, was rejected by a U.S. Appeals Court. It ruled that New York City cannot force tobacco retailers to display anti-smoking posters that feature graphic images of decaying body parts, like governments across Europe and in Canada have done. Only the U.S. government can make such requirements, not the city, the court decided.
While Bloomberg’s bans on smoking in bars and restaurants (2003) and in parks (2001) were lauded as big wins, the tobacco lobby decided posting pictures of diseased lungs was going too far. The July ruling stemmed from a 2010 lawsuit filed against the city by three tobacco companies, two retail trade groups and two convenience stores after the Department of Health decided to implement the graphic warning labels in 2009.
In a written statement, the City’s Health Department responded, “today’s ruling is likely to reduce the number of smokers who quit” because the signs would have been posted “at a place where smokers were most likely to see it.”
Other long-term policies of Bloomberg’s have also been raised in the courts this year. Resistance to the NYPD’s increasingly controversial use of the stop and frisk tactic has been growing.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly continue to defend it as a crucial deterrent to illegal guns, even though crime statistics show that about one-tenth of one percent of stop and frisks result in gun possession charges. In May, a federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit against the city’s stop and frisk policy, and in June and July, Appeals Court judges overturned two separate gun possession charges that resulted from stop and frisks.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the NYCLU led a heavy campaign against stop and frisk, and on July 16, Bloomberg told a crowd at the A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens, “Let’s be clear, the NYCLU’s priority is not protecting our safety. It is protecting their ideology. And in that regard, they are no better than the NRA.”
Lawmakers in Albany and City Council have also fought against the mayor’s agenda.
On May 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State food stamp recipients would no longer be fingerprinted. More specifically, he meant New York City recipients, who’ve been fingerprinted since 1996. The state did away with the requirement in 2007, but made an exception for the city. Bloomberg has argued over the years that fingerprinting is a powerful check on fraud, but advocates for the poor and civil liberties groups said the practice made hungry people feel like criminals. Arizona is the only other place in the United States with a fingerprinting requirement for food stamps.
“Without finger imaging we’ll have to increase the number of fraud investigations. That’s going to cost us a lot of money, and we’ll take a hard look at the quality controls for many of the initiatives that we’ve put in place,” Bloomberg told the New York Post.
Cuomo brought out the big guns against Bloomberg again on June 21, when he convinced the legislature to approve his plan to restrict the full disclosure of teacher evaluations to parents of students, and let the public see scores without identifying individuals. The New York City Department of Education had fully released city teacher evaluations to the public four months earlier. Bloomberg took to his weekly radio show to call the new restrictions “very badly flawed.”
In terms of his infrastructure development projects, this year has been strong for Bloomberg. As 2011 came to a close, Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology were selected to helm a mayoral pet project, the Roosevelt Island applied sciences campus, and the CornellNYC Tech project has been moving steadily forward ever since.
Some of Bloomberg’s other highlights from recent months include announcing a massive $250 million dredging project to prepare the New York Harbor for new mega-sized cargo ships; securing private-sector funding to launch the nation’s largest bike sharing program; announcing a prototype for new micro-unit apartments in preparation for the city’s changing housing needs; significant progress at two of Bloomberg’s long-championed redevelopment projects, Hunter’s Point and Willets Point; and Hunts Point Produce Market‘s decision to sign a three-year lease instead of packing for New Jersey.
In the latest NY1-Marist Poll, Bloomberg’s overall approval rating was 44 percent, just two points lower than it was in March, 2011.