If you’re looking for someone to blame now that the city is “thinking about thinking about considering” a ban on smoking on city sidewalks and in city parks, then blame me. On the night that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the public easements along Main Street, I had dinner with Mayor Rocky Anderson. Rocky was formerly the attorney for this newspaper. He remains a friend, even giving his wayward dog, Sebastian, to my family. We mostly agree, but not always.
Our meeting was pre-arranged, so it was only after Rocky showed up late that I learned that it was because the court decision had been made and he had been giving comments to reporters. I don’t really know what he said to them—if they work for the Tribune, they probably got it wrong anyway. By the next day, though, the spinning top of accusations that Rocky had abandoned his traditional constituency by siding with the LDS Church had begun. Like I said, I don’t know what he told other people, but I know what he told me. However, as a former bartender, I made a vow of secrecy, so you didn’t hear it from me, whatever it was.
I can tell you what I said, though. I told him that it was all very silly, that the LDS Church knew allowing public access to its property had free-speech strings attached, but that’s the deal it agreed to. I told him I thought the “protesters” were complete assholes, that even if the privilege of walking on church property was a “right,” common decency should dictate not grabbing bullhorns and making a mess of religious services held only yards away. I’m not a Mormon, but that would get my craw for sure.
I also told him that some Mormons thrive on such conflict, though, and that when I said so in the paper, I’d again be “Dansied.” (“Dansied” is my word for people who write letters to the editor making accusations of anti-Mormonism every time we use the word “Mormon,” no matter the context.) I asked the mayor if he believed the church ever fully explained what was at stake to its members when it made the purchase—after all, it owns a major afternoon daily newspaper. I told him I didn’t think so, because there seems no other way to explain how so many people could be so ignorant of the divinely inspired constitutional issues core to the debate.
That’s about the time I took a drag on a cigarette, and told the mayor that given the rules, the church might have considered asking politely for people to respect its property—its ponds, trees and flowers—and its ceremonies. Respect begets respect. Most people would be decent about it and the fringe would be marginalized, I said. Instead, exclusion won the day. See ya in court, the church said. Who’s in charge of P.R. over there, anyway? The smoke hit our reformed smoker mayor right between the eyes. An epiphany.
So now the city has a plan: Ban smoking on all of Salt Lake’s sidewalks, which coincidentally includes the Main Street easement. Cynical? Yuppers. Plausible? Ummm, maybe. Actual? Probably not, but I know for sure that’s the last time I blow smoke at Rocky. Thank goodness I didn’t spill my drink on him and use a bullhorn to say, “Excuusseee me.”