Michael Bloomberg and Lead Poisoning

Maybe he’s not the gifted politician he believes he is (boldface mine):

The Harlem mother had spent a decade crusading against landlords whose neglect of lead paint hazards had poisoned thousands of kids, including her youngest son. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who was then New York City’s mayor and is now a candidate for president, had opposed the efforts to enforce cleanup. He argued that the city’s existing laws were working just fine and that any new rules risked hurting the real estate industry

As Cleare appealed to the first-term mayor about the lead paint dust causing an epidemic of brain damage among mostly Black and Latino children, Bloomberg interrupted her.

“He said, ‘Yeah, well, I just don’t understand certain behaviors in certain populations,’” Cleare recalled on a recent morning over a cup of tea at a Dunkin’ Donuts on 116th Street. “Then he told me his foundation was trying to find out why people take drugs.”

She understood the mayor’s insinuation: Irresponsible minority parents, not landlords, were the ones to blame for lead-tainted paint dust coating the floors and surfaces of their poorly maintained apartments.

“I took it as an insult,” Cleare said. “It was so mind-blowing to me that I honestly can’t tell you how I came back. Everything just stopped right there, and I said, ‘I’m talking about lead-poisoned kids.’”

…But Bloomberg’s remark came straight out of a racist industry playbook dating back decades, lead experts say. Bloomberg’s critics say it also highlights a gap between the wealthy financier’s reputation as an environmental philanthropist and his record as a policymaker…

Yet Bloomberg’s deflections on lead poisoning went well beyond defending property owners.

He’d talk about how lead poisoning rates used to be even higher and how Neanderthals adapted to it, implying that this wasn’t a significant problem,” said Sikora, who campaigned for the lead bill as an activist at the nonprofit New York Public Interest Research Group. “He’d talk about how immigrants would get poisoned in other countries and bring it here.”

…Yet in the years that followed, the city deprioritized checking for lead paint in public housing as Bloomberg pushed maintenance workers to instead focus on clearing out the Housing Authority’s backlog of repairs, a New York Times investigation published last year revealed. By 2012, the administration stopped testing public housing for lead altogether. The resulting scandal cost Housing Authority chief Shola Olatoye her job and prompted the state to declare an emergency.

He said these things while he was an elected official, not years or decades before. He thought this was perfectly acceptable to say, including the Neanderthal remark. Were he the nominee (highly unlikely), I’m sure he would be completely gaffe-free…

It’s all the more galling because preventing brain damage in children by lead poisoning is a great anti-crime and educational intervention, yet he blamed the affected groups for their own bad behavior.

Let’s give the public health advocates the last word:

“The whole thing was so unpleasant and so ugly,” said McKee. “They didn’t care about what happened to children. They literally didn’t care. This is a perfect illustration of why Mike Bloomberg is not qualified and not morally fit to hold public office.”

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