Providence City Council seeking to override Mayor Elorza’s smoking ban veto

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The proposal to ban smoking in part of downtown Providence isn’t dead yet.

Acting City Council President Sabina Matos confirmed the council on Thursday will attempt to override Mayor Jorge Elorza’s veto of the controversial ordinance, which would prohibit the use of tobacco products in areas surrounding Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park, where tobacco use is already prohibited.

For an override to be successful, the council needs 10 votes.

The tobacco ban would include both sides of the Superman Building – Fulton Street and part of Westminster Street – along with parts of Dorrance Street, Francis Street Exchange Terrace, Exchange Street and Memorial Boulevard. In other words, tobacco use would be prohibited on all of the streets that surround Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park.

The ordinance, which is supported by a group of downtown businessmen led by former Mayor Joseph Paolino, has been refined to ban smoking in a much smaller part of downtown. But critics claim the ordinance is designed to rid downtown of primarily low-income people who spend much of their days near the bus terminal or in Burnside Park.

Penalties for violating the ordinance would include a warning for the first offense followed by a $50 fine for each successive offense.

Elorza vetoed the ordinance June 2, issuing a biting letter that argued it is a “waste of valuable police resources” and a “bad policy to criminalize poverty.”

What remains unclear is how the City Council will put together the 10 votes needed to override the veto. It was initially approved on a 10-3 vote, but second passage came on an 8-5 vote. For the override to be successful, one of the five “no” votes will need to switch sides.

The five councilors who voted against the smoking ban were Sam Zurier (Ward 2), Nick Narducci (Ward 4), Michael Correia (Ward 6), Carmen Castillo (Ward 9) and Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11).

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan