By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; 7:42 AM
The stogies will burn on St. Patrick's Day, thanks to legislation signed Wednesday by D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, one of the leading sponsors in 2006 of the city's smoking ban.
The bill, sponsored by D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), gives a one-time exemption from the city's smoke-free laws to two groups: the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, which hosts an annual gathering of Washington's business and government elite March 17, and Fight for Children, which holds an annual, smoke-filled, professional boxing fundraiser.
The exemption measure, which passed on a 10 to 3 vote last week, put Fenty (D) in a political quandary. As a council member, he championed the District's smoking ban. But the waiver was backed by Evans, a close ally who is a member of the Friendly Sons, a group that draws national figures such as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to its celebration of Irish-American culture at the Capital Hilton. The bill was opposed by the mayor's potential Democratic primary challenger, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who introduced the 2006 smoking ban along with Fenty, said the mayor's seal of approval was "disappointing given his past record and the thin justification for making these exceptions."
A spokesperson for Fenty said late Wednesday that "the mayor continues to be a strong proponent of the District's smoking ban and believes it has had a dramatic positive impact."
Evans said that the measure was narrowly crafted to avoid opening the door to other exemptions and that it protects employees by allowing them to opt out of working the smoke-filled events.
But smoke-free advocates, such as Peter Fisher of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said it was a false choice for workers who cannot afford to miss a paycheck.