Bloomberg's Last Crusade: Banning Styrofoam Cups

With the sun finally setting on the Bloomberg empire, New York City's fastidious mayor attempts to seal his legacy by tackling the most dangerous threat facing America's largest city: styrofoam cups?

Yes, it's true--the non-biodegradable material is Public Enemy Number One these days at City Hall, where the City Council's Sanitation Committee is holding a hearing on banning the use and sale of "plastic foam cups and plates" at the request of the mayor. The ban had been proposed earlier this year, but with little time left in Bloomberg's tenure, he is making sure the city addresses the foamy material haunting New York with its ability to retain heat for years. Styrofoam is a particularly difficult material to recycle because it does not naturally degrade, and so lives on for decades in already overcrowded landfills across the state in New Jersey.

Bloomberg's ban would have a devastating effect on small businesses that rely on the inexpensive material and cost the city an estimated $91.3 million a year.

Styrofoam seems a natural enemy to Mayor Bloomberg, whose tenure has been marred by a number of Quixotic crusades against inanimate objects. Paramount among them, of course, is the Great Soda Ban of 2012, an idea so outrageous to common sense that Bill Maher griped it made all liberals look like "elitist bullies". That ban outlawed certain sizes of sugary drinks in stores, adding inconvenience without "banning anything," as the mayor himself described it

The New York courts struck down and ridiculed that law, but it did not deter Bloomberg, who continued to pour money into a similar campaign in Mexico, becoming the face of an ad campaign that asked Mexicans whether they wanted a "gringo" telling them what to drink. Bloomberg also had a significant hand in the war on trans-fats, finding slightly more success with the FDA on his side. 

Other Bloomberg foes include table salt (NaCl) and headphones.

It is too soon to tell whether styrofoam will prevail against the Bloomberg administration's assault. But beyond the surface analysis of Bloomberg's priorities as mayor, his rush to have the initiative passed also hints at another worry potentially bouncing around Bloomberg's mind: that incoming Mayor Elect Bill de Blasio would not pursue the banning of everyday items with the same rigor as Bloomberg. De Blasio has not appeared antagonistic to such measures--he even proposed a similar measure in 2010--but he was not elected on a schoolmarm agenda of making the city's coffees marginally colder during commute.

De Blasio is more than, as Bill Maher put it, "the 7th richest person in the world, lying in bed at night saying, 'You know what people shouldn't do? Drink too much Sprite. And I'm going to make that a law.'" He is an avowed leftist intent on fundamentally transforming New York City. He was elected on a platform calling for Stop-and-Frisk reform, access to affordable housing, and a "progressive vision" for private industry. He may hint at a ban on horse-drawn carriages, but he was not elected to save New York City's poor from the threat of styrofoam, and he knows it. If he intends to make the meaningful changes he campaigned on, he simply doesn't have time for a Bloomberg-like agenda.

Bloomberg senses this and is now seeking to cement his legacy. History will likely not remember Bloomberg as the man who kept post-Giuliani, post-September 11th New York City relatively intact and reasonably safe, despite the waves of post-2008 economic collapse woes and subsequent Occupy protests. He will be remembered as the guy who hated soda so much he insisted on legally banning as much of it as possible. He will be remembered for telling people not to smoke or eat fatty foods, insisting on filling the cultural space reserved for Richard Simmons when his constituents elected him to keep the nation's biggest city running. And that will have been entirely his doing.


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