It's All Politics
4:17 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

For Bloomberg, Guns (Like Big Sodas) Are A Health Issue

The victory of a pro-gun-control candidate in the Illinois Democratic primary race to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was also a political win for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose superPAC backed the winner over a candidate it linked to the NRA.

But Robin Kelly's victory Tuesday was, for Bloomberg, more than just another achievement on the gun control front. It was one more win in Bloomberg's unique assault on what he views as the public health problems of our time.

The billionaire mayor has had a long interest in public health. The millions of dollars he has donated over the years to Johns Hopkins University to advance work on public health issues is reflected in the school's name, the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Baltimore school took Bloomberg's name in 2001, the same year he was elected mayor of New York City. That coincidence symbolizes how Bloomberg has been able to use the various levers available to him as a public policymaker, a political power player and a philanthropist to fight threats to the well-being of Americans.

Thus you get the mayor who led the controversial ban on supersized sugary drinks being sold in many places in his city, who pushed to get packaged food makers to significantly reduce the amount of salt in their products, and who got New York restaurants to phase out the use of artificial transfats and post the calorie counts of the meals they serve.

You also get the Bloomberg public-health school housing the activities of the Center for Gun Policy and Research. And you get Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC supporting gun control candidate Kelly, a former state legislator, in the Illinois congressional race's Democratic primary over several candidates, including former Rep. Debbie Halvorson. Much of the more than $2 million in Bloomberg's superPAC money was used to criticize Halvorson's stances against gun control.

When it comes to public health, it's hard to think of another big-city mayor or other political figure of our time who has exerted so much influence in so many different ways.

"He rises very quickly to the top of the list, no question about it," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "I mean, there are obviously others who have [attacked public health problems] in their own way, but he's clearly the one that has been the broadest.

"If you're serious about improving health in the broadest sense, then you've got to do what the mayor is doing. You've got to put your money where your mouth is, into those things that address the social determinants that influence health."

Benjamin credits Bloomberg for being a tell-me-what-works kind of leader who is willing to take political flak. "I know he's asked his people, 'Tell me the science, I'll handle the politics.' He's obviously willing to do politically difficult things. And the sugary drinks issue he's just addressed is an excellent example of that." Or, for that matter, tangling with the NRA.

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