That Meddlin' Town? Some Chafe at Council's Reach.

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; A02

CHICAGO -- Troubled by cigarette butts on the beach? Clogged arteries? The pain of overfed fowl?

Chances are, the good men and women of the Chicago City Council are concocting a ban designed to set things right.

They are mulling over a measure requiring dog owners to implant an identifying microchip in their pet schnauzers. Just last week, they required all big retailers -- Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and the like -- to pay higher wages in return for the pleasure of doing business in the thriving Windy City.

"National government doesn't move. State government doesn't move," said Alderman Edward M. Burke, leader of Chicago's 14th Ward since 1969. "Municipal government often does fill the void."

That means saving the citizenry -- in some cases from itself.

Burke, who led the winning fight to prohibit smoking in the city's bars and restaurants, is crusading against trans fats in cooking oil. Restaurants controlled by companies with at least $20 million a year in sales would be forbidden to use the substance.

As a result, health experts have testified, countless Chicagoans would live longer.

Sunning herself on Ohio Street Beach in downtown Chicago, Tina Bishop said the 50 council members surely have better things to do.

"It's overregulating your life," Bishop said as her 7-year-old twins played nearby. "We should make considered decisions about our own lives. That should not be legislated."

She said the ban on foie gras, passed to protest the force-feeding of ducks and geese, is "incredibly ridiculous."

Why does she care?

"I eat it."

The council's activist streak is well-etched. Chicago was one of the first cities to ban handguns and to require signs in restaurants and taverns advising women that alcohol can be hazardous to fetuses.

Aldermen passed an ordinance preventing hospitals from qualifying for tax exemptions if they did not permit new mothers to remain under care for 48 hours after delivery. They agreed to supplement the military pay of city employees called up for duty, to prevent any loss of salary.

The minimum-wage ordinance approved last week by a 35 to 14 vote thrilled the city's resurgent labor unions and represented a rebuke to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who does not always get his way with a council he once ruled. He thinks the measure will drive thousands of jobs into the suburbs.

But what really steams him are the bids to ban trans fats and beach smoking.

"Everybody is health conscious," he told reporters, "but is the City Council going to plan our menus?"

David F. Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, battled the minimum-wage ordinance, which he considers shortsighted and unfair. He sees the council's crusades as a way to "put them in the limelight" without digging into more pressing problems.

"They spent an awful lot of time on foie gras," Vite said. "Does that really rise to the level of screaming matches in the City Council?"

Alderman Mary Ann Smith is pushing to end smoking on the city's sands, packed this time of year with residents and tourists only too happy to douse their overheated bodies in Lake Michigan's cool waters.

The impetus came from environmental activists dismayed by the accumulation of cigarette butts. Cameron Davis, executive director of the Alliance for the Geat Lakes, said 1,300 volunteers collected 30,000 butts on 30 beaches in just three hours last September.

"That's too much. It presents a risk to children and fish and wildlife, and cigarettes are not good for water quality," Davis said. "Education is not working. We're still finding some people are using our beaches as ashtrays."

Carol Puestow, a retiree visiting Ohio Street Beach from Hartland, Wis., eyed the problem.

"Just look around here," she said. "There's butts all over the place."

But banning cigarettes seemed somehow over the top, just like the council's forays into gastronomic engineering.

"I don't think you can legislate good healthy living," said her husband, John. "As a good friend of ours who's a chef says, 'fat tastes good.' So we'll always partake of that."

Christoph Spiller, a beach visitor from Stuttgart, Germany, contentedly smoking a Marlboro, wondered about the fuss. Why should the council get all huffy, he asked, when a few well-placed ashtrays would solve the problem?

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