More than 300 members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices converged on City Hall in lower Manhattan to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed beverage ban limiting the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces in foodservice establishments in the New York City area.
The July 23 protest was an attempt to allow New York business owners and residents a chance to speak out against the ban, which would prevent the sale of sugar-sweetened sodas, energy drinks, iced tea and some coffee beverages larger than 16 ounces at various operations, including restaurants, delis, food carts and concession stands.
The health department is expected to hear testimony on the ban at a public hearing July 24, and will vote on whether or not to enact the mandate Sept. 13.
A number of local politicians, including city councilman Dan Halloran and Councilwoman Letitia James spoke out against the ban. In addition, Liz Berman, owner of Continental Food and Beverage Inc., and regional chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association; Robert Sunshine, executive director of the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York State; and Joe Vitta, of Local 812, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, addressed the crowd, which assembled on the steps of City Hall.
Councilman Halloran, a former restaurateur in Queens, N.Y., said the ban is problematic because of the economic impact and legal challenges it presents.
"This will hurt the local pizzeria, that serves a large soda to the family who came in to share a pie," he said.
Citing that the legislation would restrict certain stores, but not others, like supermarkets and c-stores, from selling the larger-sized drinks because they don't fall under the mayor's jurisdiction, Halloran said the mandate "is arbitrary legislation. You can't impose the law on store A and not on store B because the mayor can't control those stores."
The councilman further stated that at a time when New York is facing a 9.7-percent unemployment rate, this ban could result in restructured distribution systems, layoffs and lost jobs.
"What is the mayor thinking of, [potentially] sending jobs out of New York at this time?"
Councilwoman James added that the legislation is "arbitrary and capricious. It will affect the small mom and pop businesses in this city and that's why I oppose it. Small business is the backbone of this city's economy.
"Mr. Mayor, this policy will not work," she continued. "This proposal targets jobs at a time when we can't afford it. Don't eliminate New Yorkers' freedom of choice."
Instead of enforcing the ban, she said, the city should help residents "get fit and start moving."
The New York State Restaurant Association's Moesel told the group that the beverage ban is just another in a series of mandates and regulations that have made operating a restaurant in the city more difficult than ever before.
"We need to stop proposals that make it hard for restaurant operators to run their businesses in New York City," he said.
Pictured, top right: Andrew Moesel of the New York State Restaurant Association, center, addresses the crowd during the coalition's rally at City Hall.