City gets cleaner

I just witnessed Columbus City Council pass ordinance 1095-2004, which bans smoking in all public places. Businesses permitting violations of the law are subject to a $150 fine per offense. It takes effect in 90 days.

I went with Marc, which was quite a thrill, since he seems to know everyone in city government. We sat in the front row of the balcony, where a restless, wheezing, crusty crowd of lovelies wore matching T-shirts reading “KEEP OUR BUTTS INSIDE.” The stagnant environment up there only reinforced my desire for cleaner air.

After what seemed like not too much boring utility stuff, the ordinance came up for discussion. Charleta Tavares was barely two or three minutes into the reading when a man ten feet away from me on the balcony raised his hand. “I have a question!” he yelled. Then he started a shouting match with President Habash. Pretty soon a beefy policeman came by to talk with him. This got rather a lot of my attention, but I think I got the gist of what Tavares was saying.

They added a number of amendments to the proposed ordinance, which were asked for by the Council members, including an exemption for private clubs. Marc and I were a little confused about that, because the ordinance was sold as a worker safety issue, and we thought that was a pretty significant loophole. It turns out this refers to non-profit clubs only.

I can’t bore you with all the details, but I will share some highlights. When Tavares announced that private collections of ashtrays would be allowed in public places, the audience troublemaker, apparently confused, yelled, “This is bullshit!” and “You gonna have to take me out of here!” Which, sadly, the comely policeman had to do.

When Sensenbrenner voted no, he got a weary round of applause from the “butts” people, who knew they were going to lose. When it was announced that the amendment passed five to one, there was a serious cheer from the audience, including, er, yours truly, who couldn’t help jumping to his feet like it was some kind of awesome play.

On the way out, we got into an argument with a guy who had been at the meeting speaking on how the Near East Side was getting short shrift. “Black men get killed a lot more often by guns than smoking, but you don’t hear about that. It’s hypocrisy.” I couldn’t help pointing out that smoking and shooting people are now both illegal. Then he said it was hypocritical that we still allow smoking in private homes. “I agree! Let’s ban that, too!” I taunted. “Bring it on!” (I was embarrassed to have appropriated a John Kerry slogan, but I hear it so often.)

And finally, as we left the building, we marched through a cloud of secondhand smoke spitefully produced by the ordinance’s opponents. Marc cutely began hacking up a storm. Unfortunately, the only retort they could come up with is unprintable here (but George W. Bush used it on the campaign trail in 2000).

As we walked past the man from the Libertarian Party, who did not offer us a bumper sticker, and past the signs reading “Hitler / Stalin / Charleta Tavares”, I couldn’t help getting deep whiffs of the sweet smell of democracy and the sharp scent of common sense. I hope I witnessed lasting history and, if you’ll allow it, felt the healthy winds of change in my city.

(Excitingly, the City’s web site on the ordinance was already updated with the correct vote count by the time I got home.)

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