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Smoking Ban Finds an Unlikely Backer

Council member Jack Evans, front, has started surveying city voters about his possible run to unseat D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
Council member Jack Evans, front, has started surveying city voters about his possible run to unseat D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Eric M. Weiss and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Anti-smoking advocates were delighted -- but extremely surprised -- when Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) rode to their rescue last week and pledged to support a bill to outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants. After all, Catania last year urged the D.C. elections board to reject a ballot measure that would have instituted such a ban.

Was it the cogent debate that finally got him to switch sides? The incessant lobbying? The overwhelming poll results?

None of the above. It turns out Catania's conversion owes more to the politics of pique.

Catania, it seems, got into a bit of a feud with Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), the council's leading opponent of a smoking ban, who has refused to move the bill out of her Committee on Public Works and the Environment. On May 9, during a closed-door meeting of the full council, Schwartz began questioning a series of no-bid grants Catania added to the Health Department budget.

Presto chango! According to numerous witnesses, Catania blew up at Schwartz. Then he turned dramatically to Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), a leading proponent of the smoking ban, and undercut Schwartz's authority. Catania told Patterson: Get that ban bill ready and send it to his committee! He'd move it out.

If the bill gets out of committee -- any committee -- supporters say they have the votes to push it through to final passage.

Asked this week about his conversion, Catania said he has long favored a compromise on the smoking issue that would not hurt the city's hospitality industry.

"Frankly, I had been deferring to Councilwoman Schwartz," he said. But "as soon as I felt that respect for a chairman's prerogatives was not being reciprocated, I felt I didn't need to be restrained anymore."

Mayoral Meanderings

A defensive D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams took off for the West Coast last Friday for his longest sojourn outside the city limits since January. The mayor's itinerary, originally scheduled to stretch across six full days, included:

ยท San Diego and a tour of Petco Park, a state-of-the-art urban ballpark that cost $450 million and opened in April 2004.

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