Bloomberg on restaurant fines (better than taxes) and the ‘level of discourse’ in 2012

Quinn before a March hearing on restaurant grades. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio are both running for mayor next year, and in recent weeks, both have criticized what they describe as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's heavy-handed approach to small-business regulation.

In March, Quinn held a contentious hearing on the administration's restaurant-grading system (preceded by a standing-room-only press conference), and this week, the Daily News reported that she was "quietly drafting legislation expected to drastically reduce supersize fines doled out under the city’s rigid restaurant-grading system."

De Blasio, meanwhile, has targeted the city's small-business fines overall, and is suing the city to release data about the revenue from such fines.

Both would like to succeed Bloomberg in office and, in pursuit of that goal, both would also like to win the support of the small-business community.

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Today, during his regular Friday morning appearance on the John Gambling radio show, the mayor said as much.

"This is totally a made-up thing by a handful in a restaurant industry that doesn't want to clean up their act," he said. "And they give money to and support the campaigns of people, and in return they rush to the…"

The mayor struggled to complete the cliche: "I'll remember the word later on."

Later on, he returned to the same line of attack.

"They should talk to the people who eat in the restaurants, as opposed to the people that own the restaurants and are helping their campaign," he said.

The mayor also argued that were it not for all these fines, there'd have to be new taxes, and fines are better than taxes.

"People say, 'Oh, you shouldn't have fines," he said. "Well, then we're gonna raise your taxes, cause we're still gonna spend the same amount of money. The fines are better than taxes cause you don't have to be fined. You can prevent the fines. And the fines are there to encourage, or discourage, certain behavior."

Unrelated, Gambling asked the mayor about his recent immigration-reform tour, which took him to Boston and Chicago, the seats of the presidential campaigns.

That prompted the mayor to go on about his disgust with the insubstantial nature of the campaigns' rhetoric.

"Instead of giving us real clear ideas of what they would do, they're unwilling to face some of these controversial issues," he said "There is guns, and what you do about it. There's immigration, and what you do about it. ...They talk about tax policy, but they just use made-up numbers."

"The level of the discourse is something I'd like to be able to change," he continued.