Diverse City Council full of all kinds of members except smokers

The most diverse City Council in New York history has members from many ethnic groups, immigrants and men and women ranging in age from their 20s to their golden years.

One demographic is notably missing: Smokers – the very group that took a hit last week when the Council voted 36-12 to outlaw smoking in parks, beaches and public plazas like the one in Times Square.

“It wouldn’t have gotten passed if there were smokers there,” grumbled 22-year-old Josie Byrne, who was puffing away last week outside the bar where she works in lower Manhattan. “I think it’s a little ridiculous. They’re trying to control people.”

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer sponsored the park smoking ban.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer sponsored the park smoking ban.

There are a handful of Council members who cop to enjoying the occasional cigar. And some of New York’s distinguished leaders may very well sneak a puff or two when they’re far from the spotlight of City Hall.

But more than a dozen Council members and staffers last week said they couldn’t name a single member they’d seen openly smoking in years.

“We have dinners, and I’ve never seen anybody smoke or go out to have a cigarette. I’ve never seen that,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the park smoking ban. “You don’t even see staff smoking that much anymore.”

It’s a big change from a decade ago, when smoke wafted from many Council offices and cigarette-puffing members were a fixture on the City Hall steps.

“I wasn’t alone, that’s for sure,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Queens), known for her raspy voice and perpetual cigarette the first time she served on the Council in the 1990s.

Koslowitz even nearly torched her hair when she was trying to hide a lighted cigarette from then-Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., an antismoking advocate. Koslowitz, who was reelected to her old seat in 2009, said she kicked the habit in 2003 after the City Council banned indoor smoking.

She credits the law with changing her life, and last week voted to extend the ban to outdoor spaces. “I never thought I would stop smoking because I liked it,” she said. “The fact is that it is such an accomplishment in my life, and it was the government that made me stop.”

In a city where the Health Department says nearly a million people – 15.8% of the population – continue to smoke, it’s not clear why smokers have no representation on the Council.

Evan Stavisky, a political operative who says he’s helped a third of the members get elected, said he doesn’t think voters are more inclined to choose nonsmokers, but said health can be an issue.

“With the campaign finance system, the people who are most successful running for office are those who spend a lot of time walking door to door and running hard, and if you’re smoking, that makes it a little tougher,” he said.

Others speculated that members are trying to be role models.

“I know I played in charity softball games and … was conscious that if I come out with a mound of chewing tobacco, I’m gonna hear from people that I’m not setting the right example,” said Council Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Staten Island), an occasional cigar smoker and former tobacco chewer.

source: www.nydailynews.com

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