It happened with dramatic suddenness -- first, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy and charity group, announced that it would stop funding Planned Parenthood programs. Then, after a nationwide outcry against the action, Komen reversed itself.
In a statement, the group said: “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”
Mayor Bloomberg turned out to be a key supporter of Planned Parenthood.
When the news broke of the funding loss, the mayor promised a matching grant of $250,000 of his own money to the women’s health group. Many other contributions poured in. Critics of Komen’s decision said the organization had given in to political pressures from anti-abortion groups, politicians and potential donors.
The Komen group denied it but said it was following a new rule against supporting groups that are under investigation. Congress is investigating whether Planned Parenthood used public funds for abortions.
It’s not the first time Bloomberg has taken a strong stand on public health issues -- nor shown his readiness to risk controversy over it.
The mayor told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Friday: “Health care is at the top of the list of things that we have to worry about. I don’t think that politics should enter into it.”
Bloomberg put up his contribution as a challenge grant and said he had just received a message from a friend donating $100,000 and from the teachers union contributing $125,000.
“It’s maybe a refresher to all of us that organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation do great work and it’s really important that the private sector kicks in and allows them to prevent disease," he said.
Bloomberg has a strong record on public health initiatives. He has led the nation in campaigns to ban smoking and eliminate trans-fats in restaurants. Many health experts praise his consecutive appointments of Thomas Frieden and Thomas Farley as commissioners of the city health department. They carried out City Hall’s initiatives with toughness and skill.
Much of Bloomberg’s record on other matters, ranging from education to poverty, has been more controversial. But on public health, there’s a general perception that he has done well.
Manhattan Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney was especially enthusiastic.
“I was thrilled,” she told me, ”that the mayor had contributed $250,000. Planned Parenthood, after Komen slashed its funding, had to make up $600,000. This is the primary health care organization for many women across the country and that program was endangered. “
The mystery is what happened behind the scenes. Although Komen claimed it had not given in to political pressure, there clearly was a political battle -- within the organization.
And the good guys won.