Naked City

Smoke, Sparks in Mayor Race

This week's hot date on the candidate-forum circuit was probably the Warehouse District confab Tuesday afternoon in the basement at Trulucks, where Max Nofziger, Marc Katz, and Brad Meltzer all used Will Wynn as a scratching post. Of keen interest to the club, bar, and restaurant owners (not all from the district) in attendance: the routing of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the availability of Downtown parking, and most of all the "freedom to smoke," all shadowed by the sector's feeling that its massive contributions to the local economy have gone ignored and unrewarded by City Hall.

Each in their own way, the mayoral Big Four could all hope to own this crowd, but Katz -- who, of course, owns his own bar and restaurant only about four blocks away -- probably won the round. "There's not a city in America that hasn't suffered after they put in a smoking ban," he said, part of a litany of complaints echoing those of the forum organizers. Indeed, Katz pulled off the neat trick of sounding like both Nofziger (mocking contempt of Smart Growth incentives) and Meltzer (attacking high taxes and red tape) at the same time. But Katz also hadda tell the crowd how he felt about alternative transportation, a Nofziger theme of choice. "Our guests aren't going to get here on light rail or cheap buses, and I never saw anyone get here to eat stone crabs on a bicycle."

Nofziger likewise is totally against the proposed smoking ban, although he voted for the current ordinance when it was approved by City Council in 1994, during his last term on the dais. (He claimed credit for the 1994 rules being phased in over nine months instead of taking effect overnight, as may happen this time.) Meltzer didn't speak to smoking directly, but he also owns a restaurant and has so far concurred with Katz and Nofziger that (in Nofziger's words) "we can have confidence in the market, that businesses and customers can make these choices for themselves."

Compared to his three opponents' increasingly aggressive stump routines (even Meltzer has pumped up the volume, talking about being "hounded, hounded by city inspectors" as if he were reciting Poe), Wynn sounded a bit dithering and oily, reminding the crowd that he "was down here in the trenches" as leader of the Downtown Austin Alliance, but falling a bit flat in his attempts to bond. His equivocal answers, particularly on the smoking ban -- yes, he's "personally troubled" by the possible negative impact, and he supports compensation for owners who invested in building systems to comply with the current ordinance, but he also sees the public-health side, too -- drew scorn from Katz. "What does Will Wynn think about the smoking ordinance?" he asked rhetorically. "Sometimes, a 'yes' or 'no' would be adequate."

Also on Tuesday, Katz announced that, if elected, he'd be a dollar-a-year man until the city budget crisis is over (whenever that may be) and donate his mayoral salary to local charities. He called on the rest of the City Council, and City Manager Toby Futrell, to do the same.

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