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Councilmembers Defend Munching on Junk Food While Debating Drink Ban

By Jill Colvin | June 6, 2012 8:04am
Councilman Leroy Comrie enjoys the 32-ounce drink of his choice during the Health Board Budget hearings on June 4, 2012.
Councilman Leroy Comrie enjoys the 32-ounce drink of his choice during the Health Board Budget hearings on June 4, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Maya Shwayder

CITY HALL — City Councilmembers are defending their right to munch freely after some were caught chomping on junk food as they criticized a plan by the mayor to limit soda sizes to encourage healthier eating.

Sweet-toothed councilmembers were spotted Monday snacking on Fritos and Cheez-its, and sipping from a 32-ounce cup at a Council budget hearing, where they grilled city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on the controversial plan to bar eateries from serving super-sized sugary drinks.

"When they're in hearings all day long, members get thirsty and they get hungry," explained Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson, who was also at the hearing but didn't partake in the food fest.

He said members should be free to eat what they want.

“I don’t think it sends the wrong message," he added. "The bottom line is that most members that oppose [the proposed restrictions] don’t want the mayor or anyone else telling them what they can and can't eat."

The scene left many rolling their eyes.

"It's hysterical," said Bridget Travis, 30, who lives in Astoria, and is deeply critical of the mayor's plan. "It just shows that they're all hypocrites."

Others said the display made them question the Council's commitment to public health.

"I don't think they care what they're putting in their mouths and what is put in the mouths of New York City," said Park Slope resident Maya Kashyap, 26, who supports the mayor's plan.

But councilmembers defended their colleagues' right to snack Tuesday.

"They were yelling about the right to eat junk while eating junk. They were practicing what they were preaching," said Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who supports the rule change, but has expressed concerns about the impact on local delis' and distributors' bottom lines.

Others argued that sugar is crucial fuel for hearings, which can stretch for hours with no break for lunch.

Upper West Side City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who typically steers clear of junk food, said part of the problem is the lack of healthy food options inside the Council building. That's why she always brings snacks from home.

"You sit here all day long. You're starving," said Brewer, the only councilmember at the hearing spotted munching on something healthy — a bag of fresh grapes. "From Fairway!" she said proudly, as she offered them to fellow members.

Queens City Councilman Daniel Halloran also defended his colleagues' habits, saying the city has more important issues on its plate.

"I can't blame my colleagues for wanting a large Coke during a long Council hearing. I've been known to do the same thing," said Halloran, another critic of the mayor's plan.

"I just wish the City Council would get our hands off everyone else's soft drinks and worry about things that really matter."

The size restriction plan has fizzled with numerous councilmembers, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a usual ally of the mayor and presumptive 2013 candidate, who is exploring whether the administration overstepped its bounds by failing to consult with the Council on the plan, which could go into effect as soon as March 2013.

But two of Mayor Bloomberg’s biggest critics and would-be successors offered their endorsements earlier Tuesday as part of a public-relations blitz meant to drum up support for the controversial plan.

Presumptive mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer joined doctors and public health advocates at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx to argue the efforts are necessary.

De Blasio, who just last week was chastised by Bloomberg as “the stupidest one," hailed the mayor as a “visionary” when it comes to public health.

Stringer, who has previously clashed with the mayor over everything from school closures to the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, also showered praise on Hizzoner.

“We have to stand with him on this, regardless of polls, regardless of political consequence,” he said.

Embattled City Comptroller John Liu, another expected candidate, is against the ban.