Mike Bloomberg was on the Clinton Global Initiative bill at the Sheraton today, appearing with Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong. It was revealed that Armstrong will return to cycling, first in Australia’s Tour Down Under in Australia in January, and then in the 2009 Tour de France, and will appear at a July Global Cancer Awareness Summit in Paris.
Armstrong recollected his first meeting with President Clinton, after his first Tour de France victory. He was told he’d get seven minutes with Clinton, but while at the White House he pointed out a blooming magnolia tree to the President and “that seven minutes turned into a 45 minute visit… who knew magnolias were that interesting?”
Bloomberg followed and said at his first meeting with Clinton, “I don’t remember whether I got seven minutes or eight minutes or just a handshake,” and added, “I liked the comments about coming back and doing it again, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue,” to warm applause.
The Mayor said public health is “one of my passions,” and that his own Foundation would assist Armstrong’s anti-cancer efforts. Bloomberg recalled that when he banned smoking in local restaurants and bars, “I was not the most popular person in the city,” but now “nobody smokes in the city, or very few people smoke,” and that teen smoking had been reduced by fifty percent.
Clinton stepped up and amplified Bloomberg’s earlier implied comment: “If we don’t get this financial condition straightened out,” he said, “you can spend all the time you want there after this election.” He also mentioned that Bloomberg’s smoking ban came “in the middle of what we thought was going to be a prolonged recession,” and that Bloomberg had been criticized for the tax revenues he was turning away, but Bloomberg had done it because “it’s the right thing to do and if it would save a few lives it’s worth the money,” for which sentiment Clinton expressed admiration.
Later in the day Clinton held a talk with Bill Gates, with whom he has worked on a number of African relief efforts. There was a lot of mutual praise, and some observations on the next phase of African medical outreach. Clinton said that, due to the distribution of generic drugs in Africa, “the price of medicine is no longer the primary barrier to fixing the problem… it’s the absence of health care systems.” The two Bills agreed that increased medical infrastructure — practitioners, clinics, education — was the new frontier for communicable disease prevention, though Gates held out hope for a “new daily pill… that can reduce the chance of your getting [AIDS] so dramatically that it would effectively end the epidemic… but we’re still five or six years away.”
Both men also wanted to “get people interested” in contributing locally and globally at the microfinancial level by making the “impact” of such loans and grants evident. Clinton praised a program called Modest Needs which directs small grants to Americans rendered needful by accidents and acts of God. “The internet is our friend” in this regard, he said.
Gates and Clinton agreed also that, in their experience and in many cases, a lot of money has to be spent without evident result before progress ensues. Gates said medical research spending is “kind of like venture capital … half the money is wasted. In fact we can guarantee a lot of it’s wasted because we have to back multiple apporaches… the world doesn’t need six malaria vaccines” on which they may be working at any given time, “it needs one.” Clinton said he’d found it necessary to insist on a “strict no-corruption policy” in outreach, but that even when returns are modest donations “build the capacity” for future efforts.