By Raanan Geberer
For the past week or so, everyone has been debating Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban large-size sugary drinks. Yes, diabetes and obesity are serious problems. But how does this issue stack up against some of the very serious problems that the city is facing nowadays?
The city’s parks are perennially underfunded, and this year seems no exception. According to the watchdog group New Yorkers for Parks, this year’s Parks Department expense budget would cut up to 800 maintenance positions, cut playground associations, slash funding for tree pruning and stump removal, and keep four pools closed this summer, including to the Howard Pool in Brooklyn. Yes, many of the mayor’s favorite parks, such as Central Park and Prospect Park, have active support groups that will step in to fill the breach. But when it comes to places like, say, Kaiser Park in Coney Island, Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Sunset Park, they may be out of luck.
Our own education reporter, Mary Frost, recently reported that the mayor’s preliminary budget would cut $118 million for services for children and families, “including health services, homeless youth services, and the elimination of seven Beacon community programs. The preliminary budget also fails to provide funds for more than 40,000 child care and after-school slots.” These complaints drew thousands of young people to demonstrations at City Hall and in Sunset Park, Frost wrote in Monday’s Eagle.
Yes, Bloomberg’s preliminary budget does avoid massive teacher layoffs. But this must be seen in the context of the harsh teacher hiring freeze that has been in effect since 2009. Unless you teach one of the sciences or special ed – or you want to teach in a charter school — if you’re a new teacher who just got your teaching degree, your chances of getting a full-time position in a New York City school aren’t very good. Even substitute licenses are hard to come by nowadays. The old saying went, “If you can’t do, teach,” but nowadays, it may be equally hard to do either.
Amidst the backdrop of these Depression-like conditions, here comes Bloomberg announcing that he IS willing to spend money on a ban of large soda drinks. And such a development would cost money, no doubt about it. It would mean more enforcement agents, more hours for current enforcement agents, more employees to process the violations, more signs to be printed up, etc.
All this brings up the question — what are Bloomberg’s priorities? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Bloomberg has Ivy League, upper-class, WASP-like sensibilities. Don’t believe it? Then just think of his appointment of Cathie Black as chancellor of the Department of Education. What seems to interest Bloomberg most of all, more so than human services, is to make sure that New York stays a pleasant place for tourists and well-heeled New Yorkers. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we had thousands of bicycles in the streets, just like Amsterdam! So let’s make hundreds of bike lanes. Let’s make all sorts of “green” spaces in intersections and traffic lanes so that we can have all sorts of elegant people sipping cappuccinos, rather than all that horrible traffic. And if we’re supposed to be the world’s Number One city, we can’t have all of those obese, overweight people walking around. It gives us a bad image!
Yes, it’s not good that so many New Yorkers are overweight or obese. But how about trying to solve the problem through EDUCATION, not by trying to over-regulate people’s personal habits. There are hundreds of advertising agencies in this city, and I have no doubt that at least one could come up with an effective anti-obesity campaign. And in the meantime, let’s use the city’s dollars where they’re most desperately needed.
Raanan Geberer is managing editor of the Brooklyn Eagle