New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be remembered for many accomplishments—and more than a few controversies—when he finishes his third term next year.

An overarching theme, members of his administration suggested on Nov. 27, will be helping New Yorkers live longer, more enjoyable lives.

“He thinks that if we have extended the lives of New Yorkers, giving them an opportunity for a long and healthy life, then he’s done a good job as mayor,” said the Hon. Thomas Farley, New York City commissioner of health and mental health.

Farley was one of five experts from the fields of law, public health, and policy to weigh in on the mayor’s legacy at “The Bloomberg Administration’s Legal Legacy,” a two-night symposium co-sponsored by Fordham Law School and the New York City Bar Association. Panels on safety and public health were part of the symposium, the inaugural event of the new Fordham Urban Law Center. (story continued below)

Farley discussed the range of high-profile public health initiatives the administration has implemented, including bans on smoking and trans fats, calorie labeling requirements, and the recent prohibition on the sale of large sugary drinks. Referencing changes in health and social norms particularly with regard to smoking, Farley said the policies have been both socially and economically beneficial for the city.

“This is the perfect example of how policy can be effective, but also cost effective,” he said.

But Peter Zimroth, partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, who represented the restaurant industry in its battle against New York City’s calorie count requirement, challenged Farley on the efficacy of the Bloomberg health initiatives related to obesity.

“There’s a serious cost to be paid with initiatives like calorie labeling if, in the long run, they don’t work. There’s a limited amount of capital that government has to engage in coercive measures,” Zimroth said.

While the use of policy to affect public health is nothing new, Farley said that the mayor has been particularly innovative in using it to address obesity.

“The biggest legacy of the Bloomberg administration is the use of laws and policies to promote health in a modern era when … our biggest killers are things that can be seen as specific behavioral choices,” Farley said.

Nestor Davidson, professor of law and director of the newly launched center at
Fordham Law, said the school created it to coalesce the already strong urban law
resources in place at Fordham.

“It is our hope that the center will help foster conversation about the role of law across a range of policy questions that cities are grappling with,” Davidson said.

The symposium continues on Dec. 4 with panels focusing on education and land use and sustainability.

– Jennifer Spencer