McLaughlin for mayor and the smoking ban

County commish, er, clarifies position *cough, cough*

For some folks, the biggest issue in a rather indistinctive Minneapolis mayoral race is the smoking ban. There are actually two of them: One banning smoking just about anywhere indoors in Minneapolis, and one banning smoking just about anywhere indoors in Hennepin County.

Much ado was made over the summer when Hennepin County decided to "review" the ban after bar owners suffering from a deep downturn in business intensely lobbied the seven county commissioners. All eyes were on Peter McLaughlin, likely the swing vote for any kind of repeal, and a mayoral candidate who had sought to distinguish himself from his foe, incumbent R.T. Rybak.

Bar owners rallied behind McLaughlin, holding a fundraiser for him right after he voted to have the county do a study on the ban. The catch--that he couldn't have a role in repealing the county smoking ban if he were elected mayor--was apparently lost on those folks.

At any rate, it seems their enthusiasm for candidate McLaughlin was perhaps a little naive. McLaughlin certainly gave lip service to reviewing the ban, and pushed for the county to go forth with a study on the economic effects.

(The study, completed at the end of last month, has been largely misrepresented in other media. Liquor sales increased in Minneapolis over a three-month period this year compared to last, but at a much slower rate than the increase had been prior to the ban. There is ample evidence that the ban is killing the independent small-bar owner.)

But it seems McLaughlin isn't ready to get his hands too dirty on the issue. McLaughlin was recently asked if he was at all interested in repealing the ban, and recasting it as something similar to the partial ban in Ramsey County.

"The ban will never be repealed," McLaughlin said. "That has never been the intent. What we are looking at, in my view, is a waiver for some of the smaller bars that are hurting."

McLaughlin went on to talk about the bars in Hennepin County that would qualify for his vision of the waiver--bars that sell more liquor than food, which amounts to "about four percent of the bars in all of Hennepin County. That's all I'm lookin' at."

In other words, McLaughlin is hardly the savior that many bar owners thought he was. But his position gave him a push during the doldrums of a rather uneventful campaign, and may have earned him some short-term support.

Of course, McLaughlin won't have to reveal his position any further in this election season--and risk alientating potential voters on either side of the issue. The Hennepin County board is going to have yet another public hearing on the ban on November 15th, one week after election day.

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