FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 29, 2007
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ACCEPTS THE JULIUS B. RICHMOND AWARD FROM THE HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech as prepared. Please check against delivery.
"Good afternoon. Thank you, Dean Bloom, for that kind introduction, and let me also thank Drew Faust for being such a gracious host. As for the Red Sox - I come with an official offer from the city of New York: We would now be willing to send Babe Ruth back to Boston - if it will help return the game to its natural order. Think about it.
"As mayor of New York, I unfortunately don't have time to accept all the many wonderful invitations I receive for events outside the city - even those that take place only a couple of stops on the Red Line from where I grew up. But I was certainly not going to miss this one. After all, I am receiving an award for work in an area that is close to my heart - from a university that played such a big part in my life. And there's the added privilege of receiving an honor named for such a distinguished scientist.
"Doctor Richmond is a true champion of public health. He transformed the field with his foresight and innovation, and at 91 years old, he remains an inspiration for all of us who strive to make this a better world. In fact, he'd make a perfect match for my 98-year-old mother, who's here with me today. She's always had a thing for younger men. (Too bad he's not single. Sorry, Mom.)
"My own passion for public health was originally stoked during my work for my alma mater, Johns Hopkins, and its own distinguished school of public health. I'm very honored that the school's dean emeritus, Al Sommer, is also with us today.
"My involvement with that school has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And it inspired me to make public health one of New York's top priorities when I was elected mayor. Since I became mayor, my Administration - led by our visionary Health Commissioner, Dr. Tom Frieden - has established a number of trailblazing initiatives to improve the health of our citizens.
"The result is that New Yorkers are living longer than ever and, for the first time since World War II, living longer than the average American - and that gap has grown every year since 2001. That's right - if you want to live longer, forget about retiring to a condo in Florida... move to Brooklyn. Or Queens - or anywhere in the Big Apple! I can't promise warmer weather, but we don't have nearly as many mosquitoes. (And actually, about a third of those New Yorkers who do move south, come back a few years later.)
"In New York City, we've attacked a broad spectrum of public health issues over the past six years, but when you really break it down to its roots, the strategy we've followed has hinged on two principles: number one - we respect science. We've based policy not on what we want to be true, but on what we can prove is true. And number two - we take seriously our duty to act on what we know. So we rely on the forceful application of law as the primary instrument of public health policy. This afternoon, I'd like to talk to you about both of those principles, starting with the importance of respecting the science.
"The company I started 25 years ago made its name by giving people timely, reliable information - the right information to make the right decisions at the right time. And I've tried to bring this same concept into city government. I've always believed in the power of good, solid data - because if you can't measure a problem - you can't manage it.
"This might seem like a 'given' - but at all levels of government, especially in Washington, we've seen centuries of scientific discovery take a backseat to political ideology. I like to call this phenomenon "political science." And you can see it at work in the movement to restrict federal funding for stem cell research or to discredit the theories of evolution and climate change.
"But pretending health problems don't exist - or simply ignoring the truth - isn't part of my Administration's approach. We find out what public health issues are facing our residents, and we gather all the information we possibly can. Then we attack the problems - stressing prevention where we can, and focusing our resources where they will do the most good. Let me give you a few examples of how the science has guided us.
"In 2001, our city was hit by a terrorist attack unprecedented in its size, scope, and impact on people's physical and mental health. No one could predict the long-term consequences of such a unique, yet devastating, tragedy. That's why our Health Department set up a process to document the effects of the disaster called the World Trade Center Health Registry - the largest such effort ever undertaken in this country.
"Since 2003, the Registry has been studying a sample of some 71,000 people - representing every state in the Union - who were exposed to the attacks. By conducting these investigations, we can stay on top of any emerging conditions - especially problems like cancer and some pulmonary diseases which take longer to appear - and we can make sure to always give the best treatment to those who are truly affected - and not those some politicians say are affected.
"I should note that the City has stepped up to cover much of the costs of this treatment - and will do so for as long as necessary. But this is clearly a national obligation - because it was an attack on our entire nation, and people from across the country responded. So we will continue to seek Federal funding to help all of those whose health has been affected by 9/11-related conditions.
"Another great example of how science has guided us is PlaNYC - our ambitious strategy for putting the city on solid ground environmentally and economically in the decades to come. It emerged from rigorous research on the challenges facing our city. One of the most pressing is our air quality; in neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx the air is bad and children are hospitalized for asthma at four times the national rate. Confronting this problem means directly attacking the sources that contribute to air pollution.
"You may have heard about our proposal to implement a congestion charge for vehicles driving through parts of Manhattan. That will certainly cut down on the pollutants in our air but so too will our proposals to reduce emissions from our buildings; to convert our taxi fleet into hybrids; to build cleaner power plants; and to plant one million trees over the next 10 years. In fact, I planted the first of those million trees a few of weeks ago in the South Bronx with the help of the one and only Big Bird!
"Many of PlaNYC's elements have been inspired by what other cities around the world have done. This process of looking to others and building on what they have achieved is really a hallmark of science - and is a big part of all our public health efforts. A good example is our Nurse Family Partnership program - which sends experienced nurses into the homes of low-income, first-time mothers who are often ill-prepared for the overwhelming responsibility that comes with caring for a new baby.
"Around the country, rigorous evaluation of these programs has shown that they dramatically reduce the things we want to see less of - like child abuse, criminal behavior, and infant illness and death - and increase the things we want to see more of - like longer intervals between first and second births, school achievement, and longer-lasting relationships between mothers and fathers. Because of this track record, we felt it was worth giving the program a shot in New York, with the help of support from the private sector.
"We know that investments made in a child's early years dramatically and reliably improve his or her odds for good health, educational achievement, and earning potential later in life. These are the same reasons that motivated Doctor Richmond to launch the landmark Head Start program back in 1965. And that's why we've made the Nurse Family Partnership a key part of our agenda to combat poverty - which affects 1 in 5 New Yorkers. It's also why we're expanding the program to other neighborhoods in the city, and creating a special team of nurses to work with pregnant teens in foster care and women in jails and shelters.
"Giving young mothers the information they need to strengthen their parenting skills is a crucial part of helping them lead healthy, fulfilling lives. And that's the same philosophy behind our 'Take Care New York' campaign. 'Take Care New York' is the most comprehensive health policy agenda ever developed for any city in America. By establishing 10 core priorities with measurable outcomes, it encourages people - and their doctors - to be pro-active when it comes to their health, such as getting screened for cancer and knowing their HIV status.
"'Take Care New York' was created much in the mold of Doctor Richmond's groundbreaking 1979 report, which established quantitative public health goals for the nation. Already, it has helped us reduce the number of New Yorkers who die each year from HIV. And over the past five years we've not only seen a 44% increase in colonoscopy screenings - but 265,000 more New Yorkers now have a regular doctor.
"Certainly, these kinds of public information campaigns, which rely heavily on public awareness, are invaluable but we must also recognize that, by themselves, they are insufficient to the enormous tasks at hand. And that brings me to my Administration's second guiding principle: We need to pack some power into our punches. It's like the way Mark Twain once described his appreciation for the nature of thunderstorms: 'Thunder,' he said, 'is good. Thunder is impressive. But lightning does the work.'
"In the realm of public health, public information campaigns are good… but it's the law that really does the work. That's been demonstrated time and again - in areas ranging from mandating vaccinations; to requiring automobile seatbelts; to improving workplace safety; to the inspections of meat products; and fluoridation of water. Public health succeeds by making healthy choices the norm. Clearly, there are many matters of personal behavior and personal taste that we have no business regulating. But just as clearly, there are also areas in which we have an obligation to act on what we know - on what incontrovertible facts tell us.
"In New York, we've worked especially hard to bring the force of law to bear on three of these areas: reducing tobacco-related illness; combating heart disease and diabetes; and ending the violence caused by illegal firearms. First, let me talk about tobacco. We've come a long way since Dr. Richmond spurred the war on tobacco with his 1979 Surgeon General's Report. That landmark publication amplified the irrefutable link between smoking and cancer, pushing the issue back onto the national stage where it has remained. But millions of Americans continued to smoke despite knowing the dangers.
"We needed to develop new solutions. That's why five years ago, we introduced New York City's pioneering Smoke-Free Air Act, which wiped out smoking in bars and restaurants. Its premise - supported by testimony from a Nobel Prize winner and former head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Harold Varmus - was that waiters and bartenders should not be forced to risk their health because of second-hand smoke in order to earn a living.
"You can probably imagine that in the beginning, I wasn't the most popular person in certain parts of the city. Even some of my good friends opposed the ban - and they weren't shy about telling me. (Whoopi Goldberg sent me an ashtray!) I also remember many people predicting that the ban would be a death knell for our tourism industry. Some feared no one from places like Italy or Ireland would ever visit the city again! But not only has that proved to be completely wrong; both Italy and Ireland are among more than a dozen nations around the world that have followed our lead and banned smoking in public places.
"So have more than a dozen states and many cities here in the U.S. - from Maine to Montana to New Mexico. More than half of all Americans are now protected from second-hand smoke on the job. And what's maybe most rewarding is when a waiter or bartender comes up to thank me for protecting his or her health and sometimes it's a person who was initially against the ban.
"The law - in the form of higher cigarette taxes - has also played an important role in reducing first-hand smoke in our city. Early in my Administration we raised the tax per pack by nearly $1.50. This has been an especially key factor in helping to reduce smoking among teenagers, who are particularly sensitive to the price of cigarettes. Five years ago, 1 in 4 teenagers smoked; today, it's 1 in 10. And it gives me enormous satisfaction to report that because of all our efforts, today some 240,000 fewer New Yorkers smoke than did four years ago. That will prevent about 80,000 premature deaths in the years to come.
"Our success in New York has encouraged me as a private philanthropist to extend this campaign across the planet, where five million people die from tobacco-related diseases each year. Last year, I committed $125 million from my foundation toward the first two years of an initiative to combat smoking in developing countries, where two-thirds of the world's smokers live. The funding - which will go toward locally-based groups working to raise taxes on cigarettes; limit the marketing of tobacco; raise awareness of its dangers; protect people from second-hand smoke; and help smokers quit - far more than doubles the private resources that have been devoted to this cause in these countries.
"New York is also making aggressive and innovative use of the law to combat heart disease. In 2006, we passed a regulation which phases out the use of artificial trans fats in restaurants. Just as we did with our smoking ban, we faced a lot of opposition, but once again, we let the science drive our message: Artificial trans fats have shown to increase the risk of heart disease and are likely responsible for at least 500 deaths in our city each year.
"Today, despite their initial concerns that the ban would hurt business, nearly all New York restaurants are complying with the law and showing that it's easy to cook without trans fats. New Yorkers are now enjoying healthier foods without any change in taste or price. And once again, our city blazed a trail for others to follow: more than a dozen jurisdictions have either passed or are considering similar laws and nearly 50 national restaurant and fast food chains have removed trans fats from their kitchens - as well as nearly all packaged goods manufacturers.
"We're now matching this success with a range of legal interventions aimed at curbing the twin epidemics that are getting worse in our city and in our nation: obesity, and with it, diabetes. Starting last year, we mounted a broad attack on this "silent killer" - ranging from school lunch programs that exceed Federal nutritional standards; to regulations requiring some restaurants to display calorie information; to exercise programs in child care centers.
"Such a comprehensive campaign is needed because nearly one out of every ten people in our city is diabetic and - even worse - nearly one out of every three of them doesn't even know it. We are also working with local laboratories and doctors to create the nation's first-ever public health diabetes registry. Today, when New Yorkers get their blood sugar levels tested at any doctor's office or health facility in our city, that information goes to our Health Department. And when people have dangerously high blood sugar levels, we will work with their doctors to improve their level of control.
"Some people may call these steps intrusive. But I call it dynamic and effective public health. There have been very sad moments in our City when a child has died, or family abuse has been revealed - and the stories dominate the news. I'd love to see more headlines about the thousands and thousands of children and families we do help - and the lives we do save - because these are the stories that truly reflect what we're doing, and what we aspire to do.
"Clearly, the force of law is also the only effective means of stopping the carnage created by a third public health menace: illegal guns. Now, at the outset, let me make it clear that, according to the FBI's annual crime report, New York City is by far the safest big city in the nation - safer, even, than places like Madison, Wisconsin, and Rancho Cucamonga, California. Nevertheless, more than 300 New Yorkers are murdered with illegal guns each year. During my Administration that terrible toll includes seven members of the NYPD, as well as two auxiliary police officers. I gave eulogies at all of their funerals. Every one of those deaths broke my heart - but there was one in particular which moved me to take the fight to the next level.
"I still remember the incident clearly: It was November 2005 and a young officer named Dillon Stewart had been gunned down during a traffic stop. Despite doctors' best efforts, the cop died on the operating table. Minutes later, the hospital's director of trauma surgery - Dr. Robert Kurtz - joined me as I addressed the press. The doctor was exhausted, still in his scrubs, which were covered in blood.
"Calmly and professionally he explained how his team had tried to save the officer... how they had reopened the young man's chest after the first surgery had failed... how he had held the officer's heart in his hands. All to no avail. And then at that moment - having seen so many gunshot victims in his ER that the Army now comes to him for training, he felt compelled to speak out forcefully and publicly - about the awful bloodshed produced by guns on our streets.
"There's no question his candor that day touched the heart of our city. And it galvanized us to apply the law with more energy than ever before. But first, as always, we looked at the data. Here's what we found: About 30 Americans are murdered each day with guns - equivalent to the Virginia Tech massacre happening every day. About 85% of the guns recovered in crimes in our city are bought out-of-state. About 1% of dealers are responsible for the majority of guns used in crimes nationally. Now, the obvious question was: Who are those rogue gun dealers?
"Believe it or not, Congress has been trying to keep us from finding out. It's a disgrace - a triumph of special interests over law enforcement. And it's a problem that affects not just New York - but all cities. That's why over the past two years more than 240 mayors from across the nation and from both major political parties have joined me and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to lead where the federal government will not. Because as mayors, our first responsibility is public safety, and because we understand that stopping illegal guns has nothing to do with ideology or with the Constitutional right to bear arms. It's about preventing criminals from getting guns.
"That's why in New York, we've passed the toughest law in the country against illegal possession of a loaded gun. And it's why we've sued out-of-state dealers whom we've caught selling guns illegally. Half of those dealers have settled with us and agreed to have their sales monitored - and that's a big first step in the right direction.
"In closing today, let me just offer my gratitude once again for this very kind, and very surprising, honor. If you had told me - four decades ago, during my days here on campus - that one day I would receive the School of Public Health's highest award, it would have seemed ridiculous. And given my academic record, my professors would have been even more surprised! But my life has clearly taken a number of unexpected turns - and I'm happy that I discovered my passion for public health, even if it took longer than all of you. I applaud you - especially the students, for finding your calling, too.
"Public health might not produce the immediate results and instant gratification of private medicine. It doesn't provide the same kind of money or glory, but, guided by the best research and the judicious application of the law, it can make a huge difference for millions and millions of people. I can't imagine a better way to spend your life or anything you could do to make a bigger impact. Thank you again for this incredible honor."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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