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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2003

City council challengers zero in on smoke ban

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Now that Toledo's smoking ban is in effect at most bars and restaurants, this year's candidates for City Council seats are, almost without exception, split on the merits of the law.

Incumbents are defending last month's 11-0 vote for the ban that went into effect at 12:01 this morning.

Challengers charge the measure will discourage smokers from patronizing some small proprietors, forcing them out of business.

The eight incumbents on the ballot concede the measure may harm the bottom lines of bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and bingo halls, but felt the measure would improve the public health, which, they said, was more important.

Challengers said they think the council overstepped its authority by dictating how business owners should run their operations, and should have exempted such places as bars, bowling alleys, and bingo halls.

A referendum that would have sent the issue to voters in the November election did not qualify for the ballot because backers failed to collect enough valid signatures, said Joe Kidd, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections.

At-large Councilman Frank Szollosi, a Democrat who voted for the ban, said: “I'm pretty happy with what we've got. I want to give it some time to work.”

Republican challenger David Dmytryka disagreed, saying the government should not take away an activity involving use of a legal product.

“I would have tried to come up with either a staggered implementation to give some places more time, or some additional variances,” Mr. Dmytryka said. “What they have done is shut down smoking everywhere. Small businesses in Toledo are the ones that this is going to affect. It may not put them out of business, but it's going to take a significant chunk out of their operations.”

A third at-large candidate, incumbent Karyn McConnell, a Democrat who missed the smoking ban vote because she was on vacation, said she “would have voted `yes.' I would have liked to see some amendments pass, but I wasn't there to lobby for them.”

Others have pulled petitions for the two open at-large seats, but have not filed them with the elections board. The deadline is Sept. 25.

In the council's district races, the split between incumbents and challengers is the same.

Democrat Wilma Brown, who is unopposed in her run for re-election in District 1, said she was happy with her vote in favor of the ban.

The candidates in District 2 are the only ones who agree on the issue. Incumbent Republican Rob Ludeman said he is satisfied that his support for the ban was appropriate.

“I think that the ordinance as it came through is probably much more generous to the business owners than it started out to be,” Mr. Ludeman said. “I certainly agree that it is a health issue. People can be very seriously affected by second-hand smoke.”

Challenger Christy Cole, a Democrat, said the ban “does impact the economy, but I think the public's health supercedes that. I would have tried to have a compromise with business owners. I think there should have been a compromise allowing them to have a room set aside for it. If I had to vote, I would have voted to put in the ban.”

District 2 includes South Toledo.

District 3 Councilman Bob McCloskey, a Democrat, said he stands by his vote for the ban, but acknowledged that it may make him politically vulnerable.

“The timing on this sort of thing could not be tougher for people who are running for office. We are catching it from every side. I am not changing my position on the smoking ban, but I will certainly be watching down the road to see what the financial impact will be” on bars and restaurants.

Mr. McCloskey represents, among other places, an entertainment area in East Toledo known as The Docks, a string of restaurants that caters to a mostly adult clientele.

Challenger Tiffany Adamski, a Republican, said she disagrees with Mr. McCloskey and would have opposed the ban.

“I would have voted `no,' not because it's a bad idea, but because it's not good business. We need to keep the businesses we have. Business owners have the right to do what they want.”

Another McCloskey challenger, independent Martin Okonski, said he would not have voted for the measure because it infringes on personal freedoms.

“The problem is, you're telling a 21-year-old or older person that he cannot smoke in a certain area. Everyone knows smoking is not good for you, but people still do it. If the smoking ban was written in a way that it wouldn't wreck these businesses, I would be for it, But it isn't. It's going to hurt them,” Mr. Okonski said.

“It's a public health issue, said District 4 Councilman Michael Ashford, a Democrat. “Since I have been a youth advocate for 24 years, I have seen the destruction that smoking causes in the lives of young people.

“There's always a concern about lost business. Business in other areas [of the country that have implemented smoking bans] didn't really go down much, a City Council study showed, “ Mr. Ashford said.

Challenger Terry Shankland, an unendorsed Democrat running as an independent, disagreed.

“I would love to change the provisions [of the ban], but I am afraid that right now we are going to have to scrap the entire thing. What is happening already [to businesses] is scary. It's a slippery slope, and we are getting onto it right now. We are going to lose a lot of small businesses,” Mr. Shankland said.

Perlean Griffin, a third candidate for the District 4 seat, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Republican Mary Beth Moran, challenging incumbent Democrat Ellen Grachek in District 5, said she “would have been the sole `no' vote.” She favors exceptions for bars, bowling alleys, and bingo halls, and “the establishments that cater to the smoking crowd.

“I don't think we can afford to lose the jobs. It was arrogant that the city didn't seem to listen to those small business owners.”

Ms. Grachek called it a “tough vote, but it was a vote that had to happen. It was a vote for a safer and healthier Toledo.” She said she wants to wait and see if small business failure as a result of the ban “is a reality.”

In District 6 in north and parts of West Toledo, Democrat incumbent Wade Kapszukiewicz said Toledo's ban keeps the city in line with the times.

“I think it is a step that communities increasingly are taking across the country,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said, adding that he was hopeful the matter would have qualified for the ballot so voters could get a voice on the issue.

Challenger Joe Birmingham, a Republican, said he would have opposed the ban, but also supported a citywide election to decide the matter.

“I believe anything this substantial in affecting the economies of so many small businesses should go to a vote of the people. I still believe they have the right to cater to whomever they want to cater to,” Mr. Birmingham said.

David Ball, an unendorsed Democrat also running in District 6, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

A primary election will be Sept. 9 to pare down the field to the top two finishers in Districts 3, 4, and 6. They will advance to the Nov. 4 runoff election.



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