Mayor Jack Ford said last night he will ask council to “study” a ban on smoking in public places.
“I stand ready to support a ban,” Mr. Ford said during his State of the City speech in the Valentine Theatre.
He also called for a 25 percent reduction in the city's homicide rate and the creation of a “single voice” to carry out the city's economic development mission during the speech.
Wearing a gray suit, dark red tie, and white shirt, Mr. Ford spoke from TelePrompters to a live audience of 750 people, as well as to listeners and viewers on radio and television.
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Mr. Ford told The Blade after his speech that he has already polled members of City Council and believes he has enough votes - including his tie-breaking vote, if necessary - to enact a ban on smoking in bars, taverns, restaurants, and some other public locations.
The mayor's idea for a tougher smoking law could be similar to the municipal ban on smoking to take effect soon in New York City that applies to almost all restaurants and bars.
“We'll start with the New York model as something we can debate,” Mr. Ford said. “Some [council members] are interested. Some are concerned about the impact on business. I think at the end of the day we will have enough votes to pass it.”
Mr. Ford did not say whether his vote-counting included the two Democrats expected to be recommended to council next week to fill vacancies: Ellen Grachek in the 5th District and Frank Szollosi as an at-large councilman.
He said the anti-smoking effort will tie in with a campaign on healthy living he plans to kick off in April.
City Council President Louis Escobar said he will form a task force to develop a smoking ordinance. Mr. Escobar said he wants more enforcement of the existing law requiring nonsmoking areas in restaurants. And he wants to include suburban communities in the effort.
“Toledo is always the first to take the lead on things. I would like to see us take a regional approach,” Mr. Escobar said.
The Ohio Supreme Court last year rejected a ban on smoking enacted by the Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health, ruling the health board had overstepped its legal authority.
Republican City Councilman Gene Zmuda said the smoking ban should have been explored in City Council, rather than the health department, in the first place. But he would not commit himself.
The smoking proposal comes in the same week that Mr. Ford threw his political support behind a proposal to put a tax on cigarettes, beer, wine, and alcohol to pay for a new $55 million hockey and concert arena in Toledo's proposed Marina District.
Mr. Ford restated his support for the arena plan during his speech, but added, “You want us, and we're going to, seek as much private funding as possible.
“I will be leading the effort to partner with the state, county, port authority, and the private sector to get this project done,” Mr. Ford said.
The tax could be as much as 4.5 cents on a pack of cigarettes, a dime for a six-pack of beer, and 3.5 cents for a mixed drink.
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The mayor also renewed his call for combining the economic development efforts of the city, the county, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and the Regional Growth Partnership into a single voice but offered no details on getting it done.
On public safety, Mr. Ford said he has given Police Chief Mike Navarre a 10-point plan to reduce crime. One of his points is to cut the murder rate by 25 percent.
Chief Navarre said after the speech that cracking down on drug trafficking, gang activity, and domestic violence will help reduce the violent crime rate and the number of murders. Last year, Toledo had 27 murders, up from 21 the year before.
Coincidentally, Toledo's first murder of 2003 occurred about 10 minutes before the mayor started his speech when a woman was shot in the head on Detroit Avenue. Chief Navarre said the mayor was not aware of the killing at the time he spoke, but believes he was informed afterward by Chief Operating Officer Jay Black, Jr.
“Thirty percent of last year's homicides were drug-related, and if we could focus more attention on illegal drug trafficking, we could make a difference in our violent crime rate,” Chief Navarre said.
The mayor was applauded liberally during the speech, and the hall took on the tones of a church when Mr. Ford put in a plea for prayer.
“I ask you to ask God to intercede for Toledo,” the mayor said, evoking gasps, cheers, and amens.
Mr. Ford harped on the city's difficult fiscal situation, saying he overcame a $15 million deficit in 2002 without laying off city employees and must overcome an $8 million deficit in the current year.
“This will not be the growth days of the 1990s,” Mr. Ford said. “But our city is getting used to tough budget choices.” He said the budget crisis would not lead to the loss of basic city services.
Speaking to “those who wonder, What about the pothole on my street?,” Mr. Ford said, “We hear you, and we have 60 employees working every day to get the job done.”
Mr. Ford recalled the events of his first year, mentioning nearly 40 accomplishments. Among them were the effort to establish health care for the uninsured; his 30 visits to city schools to “read, cheer, and motivate;” the revitalization of the Block Watch program; the demolition of the former Cooks department store in North Toledo, and the repaving of 30 miles of city streets.
Mr. Ford defended his efforts to boost the proportion of black and Hispanic city employees and commented that he disagrees with President Bush's intervention in the University of Michigan affirmative-action case. The President said this week his administration would file a brief arguing that Michigan's race-based admission policies are unconstitutional.