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Council ponders smoking ban implications

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Supporters and opponents of the ban squared off at the last hearing on Oct. 10, with the former making a strong case that a ban on smoking will benefit the health of bar staff and patrons.
Opponents, including many Irish bar and restaurant owners, have been equally vehement in arguing that the ban will be disastrous for their businesses and that if patrons start to congregate outside bars to smoke, the ban will create further public order and quality-of-life issues.
Reports in the local press have suggested that a blanket ban as proposed by Bloomberg may now be diluted slightly as council members debate alternatives and engage in political horse-trading.
But compromise legislation is likely to allow only cigar bars to permit smoking, and the ban would apply to all other bars and restaurants in the city.
The 56 city council members have remained mostly tight-lipped about their voting intentions, but some have come out strongly on one side or the other. The mayor had been hoping for a vote on the issue on Nov. 21, but that will not happen.
Council member Joseph Addabbo Jr. of District 32 in Queens said that he plans to vote against the ban whenever the vote takes place.
“Many bars and restaurants in my district are surrounded by residences and homes, and there is a major quality-of-life issue there,” he said. “Most people like choice, so one compromise could be to offer some sort of tax incentive to bars if they go smoke free. Patrons would have a choice.”
Addabbo said that he believed that many of the council members who had co-sponsored the proposed ban with the mayor now felt that “it’s a little too strong.”
Addabbo, unlike many other council members, said that he had received many calls opposing the ban, indicating that there is strong feeling in his district that a ban would be bad for business and “would bring about unemployment in the district.”
Contrasting with Addabbo’s position was council member Oliver Koppell, whose Bronx District 11 includes Riverdale and Woodlawn, home to many Irish and Irish-American residents as well as bars and restaurants.
Koppell said he would support a blanket ban despite the fact that he got “some calls” from bar and restaurant owners in Woodlawn.
“The last legislation didn’t hurt business,” he said, referring to the 1995 smoking legislation that limited smoking in city restaurants to the bar only. “I don’t want to hurt business but I do want to protect staff.”
Typical of many council members was the response of a spokesperson for council member Tony Avella, District 19 in Queens.
“He is still undecided,” the spokesperson said.
Council member Gale Brewer of Manhattan’s District 6 said through a spokesperson that she was utterly committed to seeing a blanket ban imposed.
But another co-sponsor, Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn’s District 40, indicated, also through a spokesperson, that further discussion was necessary and would happen. Although committed to the ban, the spokesperson said, Clarke was keen to hear further testimony from all sides.
“It’s almost like abortion — it is such a polarizing issue,” the spokesperson in Clarke’s office said.
Council member Dennis Gallagher of Queens District 24 had suggested, according to some bar owners in Queens, that he would oppose the ban. But a spokesperson at his office said he was “not sure.”
Allan Jennings, Queens District 28, was also “reserving his decisions.”
Council member Hiram Monserrate of Queens District 21 will propose some changes to the existing legislation, according to a spokesperson. “What he is doing now is trying to put some changes in, like allowing smoking in cigar bars,” the spokesperson said. “But he leans toward a ban.”
Many council members live in residential areas of the outer boroughs, where there are few bars and restaurants. Council member Maria Provenzano of Bronx District 13 represents a mostly residential area with some Irish bars in the East Bronx, and her office received “a number of emails and calls on both sides.”
But Eva Moskowitz’s District 4 sprawls up the Upper East Side and includes many of the city’s top restaurants and hundreds of popular bars.
“We are considering every angle,” said her spokesperson. “She is listening to all sides. We have had hundreds of calls, both denigrating and supporting the ban.”
For Manhattan’s District 8, a spokesperson said that council member Philip Reed “does not support the ban as it is currently written. He has expressed a lot of his concerns to the mayor himself.”
The spokesperson added: “The mayor’s office and the city council are negotiating something right now.”
James Sanders of Queens District 31 said that he was concerned about the ban’s impact.
“Although I personally lean toward the ban, I am not totally sold,” he said.
“But the people against this ban, they have not done a good job,” Sanders added, indicating that the supporters of the ban were running, in his estimation, a much more efficient, high-profile campaign.
Sanders said he wanted “a compromise that works out well for economic development but attacks secondhand smoke.” He suggested that enhanced ventilation might be one option.
One experienced observer of the city council speaking off the record said, “I think that the larger restaurants, a much more powerful lobby group than the bars, basically made their peace with the mayor somehow, and have accepted the ban.”
He continued: “The mayor is so much more powerful here than the council members, so the realization is simply that if a council member has 30 things he wants achieved, and he doesn’t back the mayor on this one, then he can forget about the other 29.”
Bar owners opposed to the ban have said that they believe support in the city council for the mayor’s ban is slipping.
Whether that is true may be seen in evidence at the next hearing on Nov. 12.

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