Fight Over Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Gets a Little Bit Racial [Updated]

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Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Time is running out to drink sodas as big as babies, with the city's ban on sugary drinks over sixteen ounces at certain stores and movie theaters set to start in March. As the clock ticks, those who stand to lose money because of the new rules, along with those who see Mayor Bloomberg's quick and quiet "health panel" as undemocratic, are counting on legal challenges. Joining the charge led by the soda lobby and movie theaters at this crucial juncture are the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, which argue that the ban unfairly affects minority businesses and "freedom of choice in low-income communities."

Yes, these groups realize that obesity is more prevalent among blacks and Hispanics, but in new court papers they suggest more physical education in the city's schools instead, the AP reports. But the bottom line is the bottom line, they claim: "This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it." A group of Korean grocers have also sued to block the ban, which would exclude 7-Eleven (and the Big Gulp), along with other supermarkets and convenience stores that don't have to follow city rules.

From another side, five members of the City Council have argued that their legislative body is "the proper forum for balancing the city's myriad interests in matters of public health," not Bloomberg's board of experts, which promptly passed the proposed measure. A court hearing on the ban is scheduled for today, with opponents counting, at least in part, on a diversity of tactics and strength in numbers.

Update: The New York Times, in a report on today's hearing, notes that the NAACP "has received contributions from the Coca-Cola Foundation." Gawker makes a similar, but more detailed point:

The Hispanic Federation's annual gala is April 11, at the Waldorf-Astoria. There, they will present their "Corporate Leadership Award" to The Coca-Cola Company, which is among their funders. The NAACP has recently received a $100,000 donation from the Coca-Cola foundation, along with another $35K to the NAACP New York State Conference. They recently gave an image award to PepsiCo (which will doubtless be repaid with donations). It's quite easy for large nonprofits such as these to ensure a robust roster of future corporate funding: all they have to do is scratch these companies' backs when called upon.

Today's hearing "ended with no immediate ruling," according to the Times.