New York Smoking Ban Hearings

The city council welcomed debate Thursday on Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban smoking in all public establishments. The debate was contentious, and began before the hearing on the steps of city hall. WNYC's Leticia Theodore was there.

Reporter: Under dark gray skies and periodic drizzles, two groups of more than one hundred people gathered on the steps-one opposed to the ban, and one in favor.

Unidentified woman: " ... No one should have to breathe poison to keep a job ..." (fade)

During a rally *supporting* the ban, the mayor came out into the drizzle to personally thank the group. But as he did so, Greg Connelly, who works at the four seasons, took him to task.

Connelly: "... I'm a bartender in this city and I'm not going to have any more customers. O.K. I'm going to be out of customers (mayor in background). No they'll open private clubs and you and your rich friends will go to them and smoke cigars and continue to drink Mike and you know that ...(pro-ban chanting begins...)

That set the tone for the day. As the crowd tried to file into the hearing, a giant cigarette butt walked from person to person, as did the grim reaper ... holding a cigarette.

Once inside, the hearings began with testimony from Mayor Bloomberg

Bloomberg: "If you want to smoke that is your right and I will defend that. I don't think it's an intelligent choice if that's the one you make the statistics are clear. You're hurting your self badly but you don't have the right to hurt others not in the workplace..."

The mayor also tried to counter those, such as the protester outside, who fear losing business under a ban.

Bloomberg: "If I owned a bar I would love this legislation because I would be making money on how much alcohol is consumed and it people aren't smoking they'll probably drink more (crowd jeering/ clapping)"

Kiernan Stanton and his wife have owned a small bar and restaurant in Manhattan for the last 5 years. He also believes the ban would put smaller operations out of business.

Satnton: "Mayor Bloomberg says that we will get new customers if we don't allow smoking, that means we get rid of our current customers in hope of getting potential customers. Do they teach that in business school (applause)."

As the hearing ended, it was unclear which way the council will come down on the ban. Though the mayor's aides say he's four votes shy of what he needs. City council speaker Gifford Miller.

Miller: "Some council members have problem with further restricting the rights of smokers. Some council members are as supportive of the notion of taking additional steps but think this bill goes a little bit too far. And some council members are genuinely up in the air. "

In the end, it may be miller himself whose decision will hold sway with the council-and he's not yet taking a stand. Some political observers believe that when he does, council members could use the issue as a bargaining chip in future budget debates. Miller did say he's not sure if the bill's fate will be decided by November 21st- the date mayor Bloomberg has in mind.
One more hearing is planned in the coming weeks.

For WNYC I'm Leticia Theodore