Swing vote explained on South Bend smoking ban defeat

The vote was close but when the smoke cleared at Monday night’s South Bend Common Council meeting, members had defeated a proposed smoking ban for bars.

“I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go,” said R.C. Chevrie, owner of the Rum Village Inn on Kendall.

But R.C. does know how things went down about a month ago when a couple dozen bar owners called a meeting to express their concerns. Many elected officials were invited to attend, but only one bothered to show up.

“Again, I’m not a smoker, I don’t like smoking,” said South Bend Third District Council Member Valerie Schey. “One of the things that I discussed with the bar owners the night that I met them is, you know that we’re all in agreement that smoking is bad for you.”

Schey spent about two hours listening to the stories of some two dozen bar owners and employees. That’s when an apparent enemy of the bar owners became an ally.

“People were very passionate about their position on this, that the impact on their own business, their livelihood, could be very significant,” Schey said. “We as a council, while we’re working to attract new businesses to town, we need to do everything to protect the ones we already have.”

At Monday night’s meeting, Schey’s flip flop proved fatal. The barroom smoking ban died by a vote of five to four.

“We thought we had a commitment this time for five votes, we didn’t, and we lost five-four,” said South Bend Fourth District Councilman Fred Ferlic. “Which I think is a sad state of affairs for South Bend. Other cities in the country have banned smoking.”

Today at the Rum Village Inn, employees found themselves restocking the cigarette shelves, instead of packing up the ash trays. “Right now, a lot of these bar owners like myself, I’m going week by week,” said Chevrie. “If I lose any business, you know that bottom line, I’m just, you know, I might as well shut my doors.”

Chevrie said his bar was not only his livelihood, but his kid’s inheritance.

While tavern owners won the latest battle in the barroom smoking brawl, everyone left with the idea that another fight could be right around the corner.

“You can bring it back anytime but the way it stands now, you might have to wait for the next election cycle when perhaps different council members are elected,” said Councilman Ferlic.

The council last considered a similar smoking ban in 2012 but never took a final vote on the measure. Ferlic says that’s because it was apparent that the outcome would have been a five to four defeat for the measure.

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