Folks who want to ban cigarette smoke from D.C. restaurants and bars know that their agenda meets with scorn from one influential groupthe Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which represents hundreds of small-business owners in the city.
“It’s a question of civil liberties and freedom of choice,” argues Lynne Breaux, the association’s executive director.
The clean-air crowd fully expects to clash with bar owners, just as it has in other places, including New York City and Montgomery County, that have promulgated smoking bans. But when you kick smokers to the curb, you promote noise, littering, and public urination, the bane of a wild-card D.C. lobby: the almighty NIMBYs, that is.
Neighborhood warriors are among the many forces that the smoke-free coalition is aiming to head off as its cause célèbre reaches decision time in the John A. Wilson Building. On Tuesday afternoon, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz introduced the Smoke-Free Workplace Incentive Amendment Act of 2003, a bill that would give tax breaks to restaurants and bars that voluntarily ban smoking.
“This bill will encourage business owners in the District to be smoke-free,” said Schwartz, a Republican, of her proposal. “It does not mandate it. It does not coerce it. Rather, it gives businesses freedom of choice.”
Pro-choice. Now there’s a Republican idea!
The Schwartz bill is an attempt to steer away from the Smokefree Workplaces Act of 2003, which proposes to ban smoking in bars and restaurants outright. That bill currently sits in the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which Schwartz chairs. Three of Schwartz’s colleagues signed on to that bill, but she had her misgivings. Like a good Republican, Schwartz said the market would take care of the lungs of bartenders and barflys. She also expressed concern about the economic impact of a government-imposed ban.
“We’re not an island unto ourselves,” said free-marketer Schwartz.
Yet sometime in the past few weeks, Schwartz somehow lost faith in Adam Smith. Like a classic modern GOPer, she decided government intervention would be OK so long as it came in the form of tax breaks.
And helped her get out of a pickle.
Over the years, the flamboyant Schwartz has tried to peddle herself as a progressive Republican. But by quashing the anti-smoking bill in committee without offering some alternative, she would profile as a local Jesse Helms, a reliable ally for Southern tobacco interests.
That wouldn’t play too well on 17th Street NW.
With her tax-break scheme, Schwartz offered a light to similarly conflicted colleagues, such as Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 5’s Vincent B. Orange Sr., and Ward 8’s Sandy Allen. They eagerly signed on to their colleague’s bit of social engineering.
And what a smokescreen it is. The Schwartz plan would give voluntarily designated smoke-free establishments a credit that would reduce their sales-tax burden by 15 percent. What a windfall! Surely all city bar owners would dump their loyal chain-smoking clientele for this council-authored credit. After all, smokers just can’t be counted on to rack up big tabs!
On Wednesday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams sided with his two-time mayoral rival in opposing an outright smoking ban. “I cannot be supportive of this in its present form,” said Williams, who added that he wanted to talk further with Schwartz about her proposal.
The 15 percent solution represents a victory for Breaux and her restaurant moguls. This lobby has decades of experience lobbying the council and rarely loses a tussle when the implications are as big as those of a smoking ban.
The smoking-ban coalition, by contrast, knows it got outmaneuvered. The big names on this side include Ward 8 Democrats President Eugene Dewitt Kinlow and Ward 7 pol Kemry Hughes as well as voting-rights proponents Sean Tenner and Chuck Thies.
“She’s using smoke and mirrors to deflect from the real health issues,” says Kinlow of Schwartz’s bill. “She’s unwittingly doing the tobacco lobby’s work.”
Schwartz’s move highlighted the shortcomings of Kinlow et al.’s lobbying strategy, a grass-roots effort that emphasizes taking the issue directly to the people. While sorting through the mail last weekend, LL pulled out an attractive brochure addressed to one of LL’s housemates, a Ward 1 resident. “Do we have a right to breathe clean air?” the 6-by-11-inch color brochure asks, above a picture of a multicultural group of hip, attractive young professionals drinking martinis and eating appetizers.
“Not in Washington, DC,” answers the brochure, in bold red type.
Inside pages feature even more frightening language: “DC law should protect our health. NOT THREATEN IT.” Next to a picture of a bewildered child surrounded by smokers is a tally of the costs of lighting up, which alleges that smoking causes $212 million in productivity losses in D.C. every year.
What, did Kinlow calculate the average time D.C. smokers linger outside their offices?
The brochure also features a detachable postcard, which LL’s housemate can use to tell Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council that “everyoneincluding bar and restaurant workersshould have a right to breathe clean air, free of the proven dangers of secondhand smoke.”
It also features a ward-specific political overture: “Your Councilmember Jim Graham is UNDECIDED on the smokefree workplaces law. Tell him Ward One residents deserve to breathe safe, clean air,” reads the brochure.
As former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Graham is usually sympathetic to the public-health community. But he also represents the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and U Street, home to numerous restaurants and bars.
“At this moment, I’m still undecided,” Graham told LL.
ON THE WATERFRONT
On Wednesday evening, Mayor Williams was scheduled to present his Anacostia Waterfront Initiative to the public in a splashy event at Arena Stage. Williams has championed the waterway ever since his first days as a mayoral candidate in 1998, when he canoed down the river with the Fourth Estate in tow.
The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is an effort to revitalize D.C.’s hidden waterway through economic development. Williams proposes to do so by establishing the Anacostia Waterfront Authority, a quasi-governmental entity.
Yet D.C. already has a quasi-governmental entity to promote neighborhood revitalization: the National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC). The architect of NCRC is former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Although Jarvis has been away from the council for three years, she’s still fighting for its turf. “It seems to me the goal [is] to circumvent the council, and when you circumvent the council, you’re circumventing the community,” she told LL.
Jarvis’ outrage apparently grew when she heard rumblings that she was up for an appointment to this lawless instrumentality. “If, indeed, my name is being mentioned as a potential member of the Anacostia Waterfront Authority, thanks, but no thanks,” Jarvis wrote on Nov. 19 to D.C. Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman.
“She was supportive of us three weeks ago,” responds Altman. He says Jarvis overreacted to an outdated version of the proposal and that he has addressed all her concerns.
•Disgraced D.C. agency heads might want to put their newly acquired free time to good use by collaborating on a how-to guide titled What Color Is Your Golden Parachute?
According to a settlement report, former D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden received $50,769 for alleged injuries including “emotional distress,” resulting from his alleged wrongful discharge from D.C. government. Arden also collected $16,827 for 11 months’ worth of health insurance and related taxes and fees.
Arden resigned Oct. 7 amid sexual-harassment complaints filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and a 100-page-plus report from the Office of the D.C. Inspector General detailing major personnel and administrative problems at the city’s morgue. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox concluded that the chief medical examiner had a major backlog of autopsy reports, was storing unreleased bodies dating back to 2000, and had failed to produce annual reports detailing death and autopsy statistics, as required by District law.
“The settlement stands as it stands,” said Mayor Williams when asked about the Arden payout.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY POTPOURRI
•Back in January, Ward 2’s Evans advanced his plan to hold the nation’s first presidential primary in the District. The notion was to leapfrog New Hampshire and Iowa and grab the national spotlight. Hundreds of millions of Americans, for the first time, would learn of the city’s disenfranchisement.
That, anyhow, was the dream.
Here’s the reality: Local Democratic bigwigs refused to take on the Democratic National Committee, which has a vested interest in keeping New Hampshire and Iowa at the front of the pack. And so on Nov. 25, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Democratic State Committee Chair A. Scott Bolden, along with Mayor Williams and Evans, met with Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe to discuss how to get something out of our marginalized presidential primary.
Here’s a list of the concessions for the voting-rights cause:
•an as-yet unconfirmed appearance by a “big-name” Democrat at a local party event,
•a town-hall meeting at the MCI Center,
•the showing of a D.C.-voting-rights video at the party convention.
How did the District end up in this spot? Simple: Civil-rights champion Norton didn’t voice support for a binding Jan. 13 primary, signaling that party rules and staying within the good graces of McAuliffe and Rules & Bylaws Committee member Donna Brazile was more important than telling the nation about her lack of a real vote in the House of Representatives. With that cue, Bolden and his cohorts on the state committee narrowly voted down a binding contest as well. Given party rules about nonbinding primaries, five of the nine presidential hopefuls requested that their names be removed from D.C.’s primary ballot.
•Evans feels a little like Sisyphus these days. “It’s like you’re dragging this huge rock up a hill because nobody wants to drag it up the hill,” remarked Evans about his efforts to highlight our voting-rights struggle. “Getting this city and the residents here energized behind this issue would be the most important thing we can do.”
The Ward 2 Democrat has reason to protest that the issue’s Greek to him. According to a poll conducted by Potomac Survey Research for WTOP radio and WJLA TV, 52 percent of D.C. residents polled responded that the city shouldn’t hold the Jan. 13 presidential primary and they want to move it back to its irrelevant date. Only 35 percent of residents polled supported the primary, with 13 percent “not sure.”
The poll also predicts former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as the clear front-runner, both in the field of nine candidates and in the field of four remaining on the D.C.-primary ballot. Dean has 27 percent in the full field, compared with retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11 percent, Rep. Richard Gephardt’s 7 percent, and Al Sharpton’s 5 percent.
The former Vermont governor gets 45 percent when the ballot gets reduced to the four brave souls campaigning for our vote. Elissa Silverman
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