It looks like one can file the contretemps over Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to ban large servings of sugary drinks under the heading “Tricks History Plays.” Who would have thought that the speaker of the Assembly in Albany, Sheldon Silver, or the speaker of the city council, Christine Quinn, would emerge as defenders of libertarian principles? But there they were, with Mr. Silver splashed all over this morning’s New York Post for his vow to thwart the mayoral meddling.
“We may be getting too close to Big Brother,” the Post quoted Mr. Silver as saying. “I just think we ought to step back and look at the freedoms that we have been given in this country and reflect on them.” Ms. Quinn didn’t put it quite that way, but she was quoted as saying she favored more of an educational and less punitive approach than the mayor. They are both more democratic than the mayor, who promptly announced that he would rely on the governor to veto any blocking legislation put up by Mr. Silver.
It would be nice to think that these are but the opening skirmishes in a democratic revolt against a health department that is the least democratic, least accountable department in the entire city government. Certainly if the reaction to the latest episode is any indication, the people of New York are growing tired of it. Even the New York Times is against the proposed limits on sugary drinks. At some point there is going to be a new mayor, and there will be less backing in City Hall for zealots like Thomas Farley, the Commissioner of Mental Hygiene.
When one stops to think about it, “commissioner of mental hygiene” — the full title of the department Mr. Farley heads is the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — is one of the most bizarre of all the titles in the city, though apt enough. This fight isn’t about “health.” It’s about the mayor’s neuroses and his desire to take them out on everyone else in the city. The mayor was quoted in the Post as referring to “poor people who understand less about nutrition and that sort of thing.” After a while his condescension just gets to be off-putting.
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What a tragedy for Mr. Bloomberg, who seems at times to be capable of such great things and has done some constructive things but whose own neuroses have proven to be so powerful that he has run past all the flashing yellow signals and has lost his own city. This happened when he insisted on purchasing a third term. He could have been remembered for presiding over a boom in the city, albeit one that was ignited not by the mayor’s meddling but President Bush’s tax cuts. He could have gone out a relative hero. Now when he leaves office it will be a relief for New Yorkers, who will look forward to being able to have a drink or a smoke or a mocha caramel latte without the long lectures from the mayor. On a net basis, it’ll be a healthier time.