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Smoke Gets in His Aye

Cut the buts in butt-ban plan, Dan

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I'm trying to get into Dan Onorato's head.

I can't figure out what the hell's going on up there. I enjoyed getting to know Dan when he was but a mere city councilor. I argued with him about putting cameras on East Ohio Street. I said it was Orwellian. He said it would help reduce crime.

I'm less paranoid about street cameras than I used to be. But I'm a little weirded-out by County Executive Onorato's stance on the smoking ban in Allegheny County. I'll get back to that later.

Dan's critics tend to be the Penguins fanatics who believe the Pens will leave if the Isle of Capri group doesn't get the casino license. Capri says it'll pay for the whole shebang; the other casino guys will pay some, but the Pens would have to pony up millions. The critics think, as former Mayor Murphy famously said, "the fix is in" for the Harrah's group casino at Station Square, because of Harrah's ties to Gov. Ed Rendell. They believe Dan and Mayor Opie (26-year-old Luke Ravenstahl) are totally in the tank with whatever Fast Eddie wants, and Fast Eddie, they believe, wants Harrah's. These critics also believe the Pens will bolt without Capri, because there's a better deal elsewhere not involving so much Pens money.

Dan may have all the usual flaws of any human who works in politics/government (a tendency to speak in sound-bite generalities, a tendency to pander), but I still believe he's an honest, decent guy.

In fact, you could argue that Dan's good side is why he promotes "Plan B" to keep the Pens here. Maybe Dan knows the "fix is in," and since the Isle of Capri won't get the license, it's better to have a plan in place to keep them. You could argue if Dan believes the fix is in, he's being disingenuous by not admitting it. But sometimes, even among pols and insiders, very little is actually spoken. Fast Eddie may not be saying, "Pssst, Dan, the fix is in." It may just be a reality that's easy to recognize.

But Dan is totally missing the point -- and the boat -- with this smoking ban. I'm as tired of recounting the arguments as you are of hearing them. Suffice it to say that it's been tried in several states and has been a raging success, with little if any negative economic impact, and sometimes positive economic impact.

Dan's smart enough to understand this. He'll look for points on the other side, and you can always nit-pick. But what gets me is he's been trying way too hard to find a way to get rid of the ban, and in lieu of that, a way to weaken it. The motive could be obvious: He doesn't want to piss off smokers because he'll need their votes when he runs for higher office. Or he could truly fear that business will suffer. Or maybe he just doesn't like the heavy hand of government engaging in heavy-duty social change. Maybe it's because he smokes an occasional cigar.

But what with his being a smart, fairly progressive guy, I can't believe he doesn't just sign on to the ban and live with it. And relish it. And realize what a great thing he will have done for the health of the people of his county. He says he wants a statewide ban, but if he wants a statewide ban, then why is he trying to weaken the Allegheny County ban?

He wants to exempt "mom and pop bars," as they're quaintly called. The reason that is absurd is that the government is supposedly trying to protect the health of the patrons and workers at businesses, both large and small. That's the entire premise of this ban. Why would you care only about the health of workers at large places? There's something going on in Danny's head, and I can't figure out what it is.

The other dopey idea he has (and Dan's no dope, which is why this is perplexing) is to get rid of the 15-feet ban, which stipulates that you have to be 15 feet away from the entrance of a building to smoke. The ban would eliminate the Peanuts' Pigpen-character cloud of smoke in entryways, and most other bans have included this rule.

Whatever Dan's mental block is, I wish someone would smack him upside the head and get rid of it. Do the right thing Dan. The voters, most of them, will follow.

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