Quid pro quo: Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean its there.

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It’s a new week, and there are waters in need of muddying. Fortunately, I’m just the right man for the job.

To begin, and speaking personally, I’ve not once differed with the science that prefaces the city council’s “out of nowhere” workplace smoking ordinance. Me? I accept it.

At the same time, I accept that numerous hazards exist in daily life, both at home and in the workplace. It is perfectly legitimate for us to discuss how these risks are to be prioritized for the greater good of the community, to discuss these matters aloud, and to expect our elected officials to periodically emerge from the bunkers of their own making to join the conversation. It seems like a minimum standard of accountability, doesn’t it?

As such, I‘ve argued that in terms of prioritizing personal risks and the city’s needs, the pro-ban council bloc’s choice of workplace smoking as the opening salvo in a campaign (real or imagined) of quasi-progressive reform for the city of New Albany is misguided and borders on the tragic, especially since far more pressing issues await the council’s attention — and the current council has shown no more coherence than the previous one when it comes to consistency in pursuit of goals.

Furthermore, I have made the case that when the observations of science (why second hand smoke is injurious) meet the customarily greasier imperatives of politicians (the iron necessity of re-election), standards of admissible evidence quickly morph into something far broader than those cherished by the stricter legal minds among us.

To wit, while anti-smoking advocates cite science, and pro-smoking defenders cite freedoms, I’ve chosen to cite politics and the observable political precedent … and as such, contrary to the opinions of our visiting lawyers, when the discussion turns to politics and politicians, the previous history and inclinations displayed by these politicians are absolutely germane to the topic at hand.

Absolutely.

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Even after morning coffee and a brief perusal of the world headlines, for one to take an honest look at the political implications prefacing the city council’s Thursday smoking ordinance vote is very much like being compelled to watch one of the “faces of death” videos. You see it and are disgusted, and then you want to turn away in abject revulsion … but somehow cannot, and soon you’re wondering when the liquor stores open for business.

With the first reading vote in favor of a smoking ordinance clocking in at 5-4, the unlikely swing voter becomes none other than Dan “Wizard of Westside” Coffey. That’s only marginally less frightening than George W. Bush with his paw on the button.

Much has been made of the Wizard’s seeming conversion to the anti-smoking ranks. I’ll only buy into it if the council chamber is thoroughly screened for raw onions and paring knives prior to any of Cappuccino’s future filibustering oratory.

Straight up: If you believe that Coffey isn’t playing his swing role for all it’s worth, and if you believe he is sincere in this sudden and unprecedented conversion to tenderhearted concern for the downtrodden low wage workers that reside in the district he congenitally neglects, all I can say is that you have not observed his council demeanor over the past few years.

Something about defecating like a duck — and we’re not talking AFLAC here.

Whatever the nature of Coffey’s current set of theatrically self-aggrandizing precepts, they’re vitally important in light of the fact that if we accept as gospel the at-large councilman John Gonder’s version of events – the smoking ordinance as a mere prelude to sweeping progressive legislation in the far more significant area of rental property regulation and code enforcement – then we must consider the circumstances and ask a perfectly plausible question.

If “progressive” reform is the strategic goal, and a smoking ordinance a chosen tactic toward that destination, in what way does the council’s smoking fixation further the ultimate aim (among others) of bringing slumlords to heel?

I’m afraid that as of yet, we have no coherent answer beyond Gonder’s own admission that he would not have chosen smoking as the “first” step along the path of progressive enlightenment. Who actually did choose it, and why? Gonder has this to say:

I never asked who brought this issue forward. My sense of it is that since the previous council had let this bill languish, Jeff Gahan wanted to resurrect it.

For the perpetually self-interested Coffey to be the swing vote in any piece of legislation styled as progressive in the barest of coherent terms surely foreshadows imminent doom, probably at the expense of something on the horizon that is far more progressive (and hence, meaningful to greater numbers of citizens) than a ban on workplace smoking.

That’s because in terms of political capital, Coffey’s cooperation on smoking undoubtedly comes at a steep price. What future consideration is being swapped in return for his crucial vote on smoking?

How does this further the cause of rental property reform, an isue of public health and safety that dwarfs tobacco?

To rely on Coffey, bar none the least principled of all local politicians, for anything at all short of crisply barbecuing the bologna is to echo the words of the Peter O’Toole character in the movie “My Favorite Year.”

You can depend on Dan Coffey – he’ll always let you down.

And yet, what amounts to the progressive bloc in city council (itself a debatable proposition, but offered here for the sake of the argument) now depends on Dan Coffey to pass the smoking ordinance – and to judge from long years of experience, Coffey will either renege on the payback or mutate it beyond recognition when the times comes to pass the basket.

The same is true of smoking ban proponents in the community. When the time comes to tackle a truly important public health issue – sub-standard housing and the reign of local slumlords – will any of the smoking ban proponents be there on the front line with good intentioned politicians like Gonder?

The Health Department?

The eccentric do-gooders?

The professional health fascism lobbyists?

Don’t hold your breath. They’ll get what they wanted on the one issue that matters to them, then melt away as fast as an April snowfall. At least it will free the council to abandon rental property reform quickly and then turn back to the sewers for another two to three years of impotence.

In short, the smoking ordinance is “one off” in council political terms, and as such, it is a grave tactical error indicative of sadly misplaced strategic priorities. It will not assist the prospects for rental property reform. It is having the effect of rallying against rental property reform precisely the same people who’d have to be brought on board to achieve the curtailment of the slumlord presence.

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Once again, due praise to John Gonder for coming forth and joining the discussion in the blogosphere.

Too bad the same can’t be said for Coffey, Pat McLaughlin, Bob Caesar and Jeff Gahan.

How’s that list of exceptions coming along, anyway?

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