Smoke ban goes private
Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban smoking in city bars and restaurants will also include private clubs - those smoke-filled bastions that Bloomberg once suggested would not be covered under his toughest-in-the-nation ban.
But the clubs - from yuppie-filled, Ivy League hideaways on Manhattan's upper East Side to scores of American Legion posts that dot Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx - are entering the debate late.
That's partly because Bloomberg mistakenly indicated they would not be included when he first discussed the ban on Aug. 9.
"Private clubs," he told reporters then, "I believe, would not be covered."
But Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city health commissioner, confirmed for the Daily News that private clubs have always been part of the ban - assuming they have employees, which most do.
Frieden said the point of the ban was never to outlaw smoking, but to protect bartenders, waitresses and other workers from secondhand smoke - no matter where they work.
That interpretation also was reiterated last week by the city's Law Department.
"If there has been any lack of clarity on that issue, it will need to get clarified," said Frieden. "Because these are workplaces, too."
The city's decision to include these small locations means smokers will have only two safe havens: at home, or outside on the street. Bars, restaurants and all workplaces - including private offices - will be off-limits under Bloomberg's proposal.
The decision will likely draw awhole new set of players to the debate, among them some of the city's wealthiest powerbrokers - many of whom consider after-dinner cigars a God-given right - and veterans who find comfort in local fraternal halls.
Vet fired up
They will likely be people like Nino Fulgoni, 66, who was enjoying his usual cigar at the Our Lady of Fatima Catholic War Veterans post in East Elmhurst, Queens, when told of the mayor's proposed ban.
"We have veterans here who made it onto Omaha Beach on D-Day," Fulgoni said. "You going to tell them that they can't smoke?"
"They earned their stripes," added Fulgoni, whose post has about 80 members, roughly half of them smokers. "If they want to smoke - let 'em smoke."
Word of the ban's extension to private clubs has been seeping out slowly, mostly as bar owners have met with city officials to analyze the legislation's fine print.
One of those groups is the United Restaurant and Liquor Dealers of Manhattan, whose leaders are actively trying to bring veterans and other private clubgoers into the debate.
"We have been reaching out to these guys," said Brian Rohan, an organizer for the association, whose members - most of them small bar owners - have kicked in $25,000 to fight Bloomberg's proposal. "I think a lot of these guys are in for a shock."
Some City Council members are already feeling the heat. One constituent recently sent Cit Councilman James Oddo (R-S.I.) a poster she found in a bar. It showed Oddo's last name with a black line through the middle, and the words New York Restaurant and Liquor Dealers Association written beneath it.
"I knew going in that would happen," said Oddo, one of the bill's chief sponsors. "But you can't argue with the science. The bottom line is that these are all employees who are being subjected to a dangerous situation."