March 12, 2013

To mayor, NYC soda ruling just 'temporary setback'

The Associated Press

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In this March 8, 2013 file photo, a Coca-Cola poster about the city's anticipated beverage ban is displayed at a pizza shop at New York's Penn Station. New York City's groundbreaking limit on the size of sugar-laden drinks has been struck down by a judge shortly before it was set to take effect. The restriction was supposed to start Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The rule prohibits selling non-diet soda and some other sugary beverages in containers bigger than 16 ounces. It applies at places ranging from pizzerias to sports stadiums, though not at supermarkets or convenience stores. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The appeal could easily take a year or more, potentially leaving the next mayor with a decision about whether to keep pressing it.

Several Republican and Democratic contenders have criticized the ban. "Thank goodness the court intervened," cheered one, Democrat John Liu, now the city comptroller.

City Council Speaker and frequent Bloomberg ally Christine Quinn, so far the Democratic front-runner in the heavily Democratic city, told CNN host Piers Morgan on Monday that the big-soda ban "isn't something I support." But she said Tuesday that officials should "let this make its way through the court, and we'll see where we end up."

Meanwhile, one of her Democratic rivals, city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, was by Bloomberg's side applauding the measure.

"This is a crisis that must be addressed, he said, and "the mayor is doing that."

For a mayor who has made unconventional public health initiatives a key part of his agenda, Monday's court decision is at least a distracting roadblock.

The soda rule revived complaints that he's turning a tough town into a "nanny state." The New York Post has pictured him as "Mayor Poppins" alongside stories about it.

And the court ruling could fuel longtime perceptions of him as high-handed and sometimes deaf to the democratic process, a criticism that hit a fever pitch when he persuaded the City Council to extend term limits in 2008 so he could run again after voters had twice approved the previous limit.

Tingling, the trial-level court judge, called the sugary drinks regulation "arbitrary and capricious," language that comes from a legal standard but could strike non-lawyers as an echo of the "imperial mayor" his critics sometimes deride.

Fairly or not, the ruling "makes it easier to paint him as someone who's kind of overbearing and autocratic," said Queens College political science professor Michael Krasner.

New Yorkers are divided on the issue, with 51 percent against it and 46 percent supporting it in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

For his part, Bloomberg shrugs off questions about whether the soda contretemps has sapped his political capital, saying he's "trying to do what's right" and thinks the public ultimately will agree with him. He foresees smaller sodas becoming as normal as smoke-free bars, another change that was controversial when he led a charge for it more than a decade ago. The City Council passed it in 2002.

"The mayor's right: Leadership requires sticking your neck out," says Douglas Muzzio, a Baruch College political science professor who specializes in city politics.

As for whether the public will reward him for it, "This may not be one of those cases, or it may be."

 

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