During a Ward 1 town-hall meeting Thursday, June 9, Councilmember Jim Graham publicly offered his support to expanding the city's smoke-free workplace laws to include the district's bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
The meeting, called by Graham to gauge his constituents' sentiments, attracted about 200 people to the Lincoln Theatre for the sometimes contentious two-hour discussion. Members of Smokefree DC, a group that supports the prohibition, seemed to outnumber ''Ban the Ban'' opponents by roughly five to one.
''What this comes down to for me is this is a health issue,'' Graham said as he closed the meeting. ''The evidence is clear beyond any question.... Whatever we're going to do has to be mandated. I'm prepared tonight to say I will support the smoke-free legislation. As a general principle, we have to be ready to say we don't want second-hand smoke in our workplaces.''
Including Graham, there are eight council members who in some way support expanding the smoking ban to include hospitality venues, according to Smokefree DC. Three bills with that aim are pending.
The meeting offered short presentations from eight panelists, who, for the most part, seemed to support the smoking ban. In order of presentation, the panelists were: Angela Bradbury, co-founder of Smokefree DC; Ivy Brown, a New York City resident and business owner; Dr. Juan Romagoza, director La Clinica del Pueblo, a non-profit clinic offering health care to lower-income members of the local Latino community; Scott Sledge, executive vice president of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association; Eric Marshall, field representative American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network; John Warling, sales manager for Airistar Technologies, which produces air-purification systems; Dr. Peter Shields, an oncologist with the Lombardi Cancer Center of Georgetown University; and Denis James, executive vice president of the Kalorama Citizens Association. Though not making public statements, City Council members Kwame Brown (D-At Large) and Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) were in attendance.
Of the panelists, only Sledge clearly opposed extending non-smoking laws to D.C.'s bars, restaurants and nightclubs, himself an owner of such an establishment.
''I guess I'm the bad guy because I do own a bar and a restaurant,'' said Sledge, following comments from Romagoza that allowing smoking in hospitality establishments hurts the health of some of society's particularly vulnerable members, recent immigrants.
Despite a request that applause be held to the end, clapping accompanied Sledge's closing remarks. A couple dozen people applauded, apparently in a show of solidarity at their underdog status -- Sledge's on the stage, their own among the audience. It was countered, loudly, seconds later by gratuitous applause for the first remarks from Marshall.
While he did not attend, Mark Lee, one of the city's best-known gay nightlife promoters and a leading opponent of the efforts to ban smoking in the city's entertainment establishments, said he was surprised by the timing of Graham's town-hall meeting.
''It was a little surprising that Jim announced his forum so close the D.C. Council's public hearing,'' says Lee, pointing to a committee hearing called by Councilmember Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) for Tuesday, June 14. ''A wide variety of freedom of choice -- if you will -- speakers are registered to speak. I will be appearing with three of my co-workers. I know Ed Bailey at [the smoke-free lounge] Halo will appear on a panel with employees of Halo.''
Donald Hitchcock, national field director for the National Lesbian and Gay Health Coalition, who attended the June 9 town-hall meeting, said Monday that he would be at June 14 meeting as well. Like Lee, he also cited members of the gay community in his smoke-free corner, such as Chuck Wolfe of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and William Waybourn of Window Media. He added that he'll be joining with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and the Mautner Project to speak at the Council meeting.
At this point, with a seeming majority of Council members in favor of extending the workplace smoking ban, Hitchcock and Lee apparently agree that it's now a matter of amending proposed legislation in favor of smokers' rights -- or blocking such amendments -- depending on each man's aims.
''This [June 14] public hearing is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue,'' says Lee. ''I think it's premature to predict the outcome.''
Says Hitchcock: ''We want to get a comprehensive, smoke-free workplaces bill. We think a bill will pass. We want to make sure it doesn't include any [loophole] amendments.''