The toughest vote for the smoking ban

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August 9, 2004 // UPDATED 2:58 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Councilmember Lisa Goodman represents lots of bars - and lots of folks who hate smoking. Here's how she made her decision.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), who represents Downtown's business district and Loring Park and Elliot Park neighborhoods, had perhaps the toughest voting decision on Minneapolis's recent smoking ban.

A staunch business advocate, Goodman initially came out against the ban, raising concerns about the potential negative impacts on bars and restaurants. However, when the Council voted July 23, she supported a full ban --

after favoring a compromise that would have allowed about 100 of the city's bars to retain smoking -- saying she was swayed by "intense" feedback from her constituents.

Since the vote, people continue to swamp her office with calls and e-mails, mostly from those opposing the new smoking ban.

Some have been extreme. Goodman read one: "We hope you die a horrible death. How dare you inflict your personal opinion on us."

Goodman sat down with Skyway News to explain how, in the end, she made up her mind.

Can you explain the process you went through in reaching a decision?

It starts like this: I don't smoke. However, my mother, who is now 63, has smoked two packs of cigarettes her whole life since she was 12. When I was growing up, my mother smoked in the car, in the house and we sat in smoking sections of restaurants. So I grew up as one of these people who was affected by secondhand smoke involuntarily, hate it and don't smoke as a result of it, and live with the fear that some horrible thing is going to happen to my mother. She's had several scares with lung cancer.

In the early days that [the smoking ban] came up, I really felt that it was pushed and promoted by people who had very little regard for the effect it would have on businesses. ... It was almost like they were the enemy -- "how dare these bar and restaurant owners be opposing a smoking ban to help their employees?"

Well, the employees' union was against it, too. So, part of it for me was how it was handled -- the disregard for the economic and personal concerns of the owners, and so initially I came out pretty strongly against it, because I just felt it came out really fast and there wasn't enough time to get feedback. ...

I have this general libertarian philosophy that private business owners should be able to make those decisions on their own, because I'm not in the position of being the person who knows what a

5 percent decline in my business would be and how that would affect my bottom line.

How many calls or e-mails did you receive?

I would say it was somewhere in the 250 range -- probably more calls and contacts on this issue than any single other issue in the time that I've been the Council.

And I will say this about the contacts: On both sides, it did not seem to be organized. So I don't buy the argument that the tobacco industry in any way, shape or form, had an organized campaign against us.

But I also don't think ... the proponents had any kind of organized campaign because people who contacted me about this issue were doing so from the heart. ... Fifty percent of the time, [it was] people who had horrible situations in their family where someone died of lung cancer. ... But oftentimes, they were very myopic in nature. I would say that more than about 10 people contacted me and told me, "I don't care what else you do, if you don't vote for this I won't vote for you." Straight up, point blank -- this is the single most important thing happening in the city.

I had someone stand up at a meeting and tell me I would be responsible for their children's death if we didn't do this, so it was very personal and directed at me personally. ...

I would say prior to the time that the ban passed, the calls to my office were about 60-65 percent in favor [of the ban] and 30-35 percent against. ...

One of the things that really shocked me about this was the unbelievable silence from the business community and the silence from the Downtown Council, the [Minneapolis] Chamber [of Commerce].

The only group organized against this, in some way, was the GMCVA [Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association], of which I serve on the board, and Hospitality Minnesota -- and even there was a difference of opinion. Some, like Lowell Pickett, who owns the Dakota, contacted me strongly in favor of [the ban]. It was not unanimous. ... The public is on the side of banning smoking, and you saw what's happening in the public reflected in these organizations.

It's important to note that I didn't feel any pressure from the business community. My concern about it was actually not about the Downtown bars and restaurants. My concern is about these small mom-and-pop restaurants and bars in neighborhoods that I don't even represent -- VFWs, the bowling alleys and American legions. Where they operate on a very small margin, where a vast majority of the people that go there smoke. ... I buy the argument that ... if these organizations put their money where their mouth, we could turn this into a positive for the city as marketing the city as smoke-free. And that's a good thing and quite frankly, medical conventions are among the best conventions to have here, in terms of how much money they spend, which is what they are asking them to do, those are very high-income demographics.

So I do think that there is a fine line between whether or not this will be good or bad for the hospitality business, and only time will tell. ...

What I told people in my correspondence and what I told them on the phone was this one very important thing: I believe this job is about representation. ... I struggled with this in a major way, but what made the difference for me were the literally dozens and dozens of respectful discussions I had with people about it.