New York, NY — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking in forceful and personal terms, went yesterday to a neighborhood plagued by high asthma rates to argue for his sweeping plan to reduce the city’s air pollution, which includes a surcharge for vehicles entering congested sections of Manhattan.
The mayor addressed a conference of ministers at the Bethel A.M.E. Church on West 132nd Street in Harlem. The air-conditioning was not on, and as the air became stuffy, many in the audience began fanning themselves with folded programs.
Mr. Bloomberg said that his administration was committed to removing “disease-causing soot” from the city’s air by planting trees, using cleaner fuels and imposing fees, similar to those used in parts of London and Singapore, on drivers entering Midtown and downtown Manhattan.
He mentioned, as he did in his Earth Day speech on Sunday, that in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem, children are hospitalized for asthma, which is aggravated by dirty air, at nearly four times the national average.
The men and women in the audience gasped at the statistic and shook their heads.
“In my faith, the Jewish faith,” Mr. Bloomberg continued, “there is a religious obligation called tikkun olam, or to make the world whole, or to correct error and end injustice. And that responsibility is found among people of good will in every faith.”
Mr. Bloomberg has attracted both criticism and praise for proposing a fee of $8 a day for cars and $21 for commercial trucks that enter Manhattan below 86th Street during weekday business hours.
“Maybe that will force people onto mass transit,” he said, and then stopped. “And there’s a young lady in the front shaking her head no. If she’s the only one in the room who doesn’t like it, I’m doing pretty good.” The audience laughed.
Imposing congestion fees, the mayor said, “will encourage people to take mass transit, it will give us the money to build more mass transit, it will clean the air and give our children much better air to breathe — and also for adults, incidentally.”
“If it doesn’t work,” he said, “at least we tried, but we have to do something for our children.”