NEW YORK – The public face of the foundering Obama administration response to the Ebola crisis has a history of left-leaning activism and fashions himself as a “community organizer,” much as the president who appointed him in 2009.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, previously served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2002 to 2009 under New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Under Bloomberg, Frieden was the architect of a variety of initiatives, from the prohibition of smoking citywide to the attempted “Big Gulp” ban that the New York State Supreme Court struck down as “arbitrary and capricious.”
Frieden saw government-engineered curbing of soda sales a way to combat obesity while many New Yorkers resented it as a “Nanny State” intrusion into their private lives.
In 2004, the New York Times characterized Frieden as a health-care activist.
“In some ways, Dr. Frieden, who is 43 and is married with one child, is inheriting a tradition of active health commissioners that retreated during the Giuliani administration, when public health was a back-burner issue,” reporter Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in a Times article titled “Gladly Taking the Blame for Health in the City.”
“Although Mayor Bloomberg has taken both the credit and the grief for the ban on smoking, the restaurant fines, and the opposition to a bill on lead paint hazards, insiders on each issue know that the health commissioner is the one who developed these policies.”
In what today seems a prescient comment, Frieden defended his smoking ban policy with a reference to Ebola.
Steinhauer wrote: “About the smoking law, [Freiden] said: ‘In public health there is no pro-TB or pro-Ebola lobby, but there is a pro-tobacco lobby. And they spend $2 billion on marketing and promotion. Everyone knows that secondhand smoke kills. It would be a pretty sorry case if a health commissioner didn’t support this law. The surprise is that the mayor supports it. But I would be happy to be attacked for it.”
The New York Times article noted Freiden began his career in New York in 1990 as an epidemiologist, and his success in documenting the spread of resistant tuberculosis led to his appointment as director of the City Bureau of Tuberculosis Control, where he served from 1992 to 1996.
“The program Dr. Frieden created, which included staff members searching under bridges for homeless people to get them into treatment, greatly reduced tuberculosis in the city and is considered a national model,” Steinhauer noted.
The newspaper also noted Bloomberg hired Frieden back from India, where he had worked for five years as a medical officer for the World Health Organization on loan from the CDC, where he had assisted the Indian government in its efforts to fight tuberculosis.
Steinhauer concluded her profile piece by noting Frieden “still enjoys dining out on sushi, and said he was just fulfilling a mission.”
“Public health has one underlying philosophy, and one underlying methodology,” Frieden said, according to the Times. “The underlying philosophy is social justice, and methodology is using data to improve decisions.”
The term “social justice” is typically used in reference to progressive public programs implemented by Democratic Party administrations to bring about societal change.
Over the past few days, bloggers have scrutinized a commencement address Frieden, class of 1982, gave in 2012 at his alma mater, Oberlin College.
At 4:08 into the speech, Frieden says that after he graduated from Oberlin in 1982, he rode his bicycle to Tennessee to become a “community organizer,” another phrase familiar to students of Barack Obama’s sojourn in Chicago with a Saul Alinsky-styled social welfare group.
Among those outspoken in their calls for Frieden to resign as CDC director has been Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Calling Frieden CDC’s “chief propagandist,” O’Reilly said on air “there is no compelling reason why West Africans should be admitted to the USA,” arguing that imposing air travel restrictions, a measure Frieden has vigorously opposed, is a national security issue.
Discussing why Frieden may have refused to accept numerous requests to appear on “The O’Reilly Factor,” O’Reilly speculated: “He knows that I know he is not being candid, that he is spinning the situation and not being forthcoming about how the disease is spread. Freiden should resign.”