Fizzle New York City’s Proposed Food-Stamp Ban for Soda?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long made it a paramount goal to
rid New York City of unhealthful foods, and he recently asked the Federal
government for permission to prohibit Food Stamp recipients from using stamps
to buy soda and other sugared beverage in the city. Supporters are cheering Bloomberg’s stance, saying he’s
striking a blow for better dietary habits and ultimately lower public health
costs and consequences such as obesity. But critics question the move, seeing
it as an example of big government, even patronizing toward the poor.

Research can be a valuable guidepost for public officials.
In 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg required restaurant franchises to put calories
counts on their menus, NYU Wagner professors Rogan Kersh and Brian
 sought to measure the impact of the calorie labeling
initiative on consumer habits at fast-food restaurants in low-income
neighborhoods. Their survey of 1,156 adult found little direct evidence to
support the Mayor’s view that the posting of calorie counts causes fast-food
patrons to buy items containing fewer calories. Elbel’s and Kersh’s widely
discussed study, published in the journal Health Affairs,
underscored that follow-up studies are needed to determine the  value and
effectiveness of menu labeling as well as other obesity-related policies.

Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to
bar food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks “an extremely
innovative policy approach to tackle the complicated and multifaceted problem
of obesity. “It deserves a rigorous assessment, to evaluate its overall impact
on healthy food choice and obesity,” adds Professor Elbel, assistant professor
of medicine and health policy. “The rest of the nation can then learn from the New York City experience
as these and other policies to fight obesity are considered across the

What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is
it good public policy? Post your comment today.

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NYU Wagner Student Dave Algoso Says Nicholas Kristof is Wrong

Dave Algoso, a second-year student at NYU Wagner, studying international development, sees problems with New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof‘s D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution and makes his own case for why amateurs are not the future of foreign aid. The full article appears in Foreign Policy

Don’t Try This Abroad
Nick Kristof is wrong. Amateurs are not the future of foreign aid.

Many globally minded, can-do Americans these days have come to believe that the world’s major problems have solutions, and that these solutions are within reach. This feeling often leads to frustration: Why doesn’t someone just do something about these problems? Are the NGOs and foreign aid agencies lazy, incompetent, or both? Why can’t we end poverty?

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about people who have taken matters into their own hands. The piece, Nicholas Kristof’s “D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution: The rise of the fix-the-world-on-your-own generation” offered several aren’t-they-inspiring stories about Americans who have run off to save poor people in developing countries from whatever afflicts them. A woman from Oregon begins fundraising for community work in eastern Congo, and later shifts her attentions to conflict minerals. A recent high school graduate from New Jersey uses her babysitting money to start an orphanage and school in rural Nepal. You get the idea.

The stories sound lovely. I admit to feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside reading them. After all, this is what drives me to do development work: to make the world just a little better. (I study international development at New York University‘s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.) We all want to tell ourselves the story about fighting through hardship — each of these women made personal sacrifices for their work — to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, such stories don’t reflect reality…
Dave Algoso is a second-year student at NYU Wagner, studying international development. His blog is called Find What Works.

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Adolfo Carrión, Jr. speaks at NYU Wagner’s Conversations in Public Service Breakfast

The Conversations in Public
Service (CPS)
breakfast held on Tuesday, October 19 at NYU Wagner featured one of the major players in
urban planning–the Bronx‘s own Adolfo Carrión, Jr.,
regional administrator of housing and urban development for New York and New
Jersey. Wagner students enjoyed an informative
discussion about the current state of urban communities and the importance of
smart planning in shaping our growing, and sometimes shrinking, U.S.

While Carrión was excited to return to New York this past June,
after serving as the nation’s first director of the White House Office of
Urban Affairs
and deputy assistant to President Obama, he expressed his
appreciation of the administration’s focus on urban issues and reemphasizing of
the “UD” in HUD, after years of being a low priority. Carrión believes that an
urban focus with a bottom-up approach is essential, as our nation’s population
continues to grow and urbanize and cities must be prepared to meet those

Carrión also spoke of the Obama administration‘s new Sustainable
Communities Planning Grant Program
administered through HUD. This innovative
grant program will disperse $150 million in funding through a competitive
application process, in an effort to improve the integration of housing and
transportation planning in urban areas. While the grant application process has
been criticized by some, the Obama administration and HUD view it as a positive
way to encourage cities to produce creative and effective

Furthermore, Carrión discussed the administration’s HUD-VA collaboration
geared toward ending veteran homelessness, which is part of the larger
administration-wide goal
of ending homelessness
in the U.S. Carrión acknowledged that these
challenges are not easy for policy makers, but reminded students of the
importance of setting goals in order to create comprehensive policy and chart

he next CPS breakfast at NYU Wagner will be held on
Tuesday, November 9, and features special guest Carol Thompson Cole,
president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP).

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Former Mayor Ed Koch pays tribute to public service

Dean Ellen Schall opened the event with a tribute to public service,
saying, “City government is the most amazing opportunity. You can get a lot of
responsibility and make a huge amount of difference.” Dean Schall had worked as
the deputy of Juvenile Justice in Ed Koch‘s administration and will always
refer to him as “Mr. Mayor.”

Rob Polner, director of Public Affairs for NYU Wagner, moderated the
discussion and gave a context of New
York City
in the late 1970s, when Ed Koch was first
elected as mayor. Polner described NYC as being in “permafrost of gloom” and
was anticipated to go the route of other industrial cities like Detroit. Crime was
rising, people were dying of HIV/AIDS, and homelessness was a huge problem.
“Koch,” he commented, “led NYC through a true renaissance” by securing business
investment and public works that would revitalize the city.

Jonathan Soffer then read an excerpt from his new book, Ed Koch and
the Rebuilding of New York City
. He pointed out that Koch’s successes were not
things people expected; his own campaign manager had said he had 20-0 odds of
winning the election! Koch added that in the first poll, only four percent of
people in the city knew his name. But he did win the election of 1977, and
again in 1981 and 1985.

During his tenure, he took on issues such as housing projects,
homelessness, crime, the city’s debt and corruption in the judicial
system.  Koch was asked, “What are you
most proud of?” He responded that he gave NYC and its people back their morale.
“We were in the depths of despair; people needed to be energized.” Soffer
reminded the audience that Koch balanced the city’s debt within three years, a
feat nobody thought possible. But Koch was quick to respond that it wasn’t him
alone that did this. Rather it was the people of New York, people like Ellen Schall, who
accomplished these things. “There’s nothing comparable to public service when
it’s done honorably and done well. It’s like an aphrodisiac.”

Koch reminisced about his policy to address homelessness and the
Billie Boggs incident. In 1987, Koch introduced a new program that would pick
up homeless people, take them to Bellevue
Hospital, and treat
them with medical and psychiatric care. Koch defended his policy that year to
the American Psychological Association, saying, “I am the number one social
worker in this town, with sanity.” However, the New York Civil Liberties Union
did not agree with the policy and defended one woman who was picked up, Billie
Boggs. In court they argued that she could not be forcibly committed to
psychiatric care and won the case.

A guest asked both Soffer and Koch what their most memorable moment
was in writing the book and serving as mayor, respectively. Soffer’s moment was
his interview with Robert Wagner, Jr., which was hours long. Koch’s response
was the twelve-day subway strike of 1980. He was in a meeting with the police
commissioner when he looked out the window and saw thousands of people walking
across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
“It was like Lake Ladoga,” Koch remembered, referring to a frozen lake
on the outskirts of Leningrad
that allowed Soviet soldiers to get supplies into the city and defeat the
Nazis. Koch went downstairs from the meeting and started yelling, “Walk across
the bridge!” encouraging people to continue coming to work.

In closing, Dean Schall asked all of the people who served in Ed
Koch’s administration to stand. Well over a dozen people stood, and Dean Schall
encouraged the current students at NYU Wagner to talk with them during the
reception. Koch added that members of his former administration continue to
meet every year, and roughly 200 people attend these get-togethers. “You can’t
stop them from coming,” he said. “Most are now in the private sector but if
they had the opportunity to go back to public service, they’d go in a

What do you think? If you could change one thing that Ed Koch did as
mayor, what would it be and why?

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