Volume 80, Number 52 | May 26 - June 1, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

They’re not giving up their smokes in Washington Sq.

By Aidan Gardiner

A day after New York City banned all smoking in public parks, Washington Square Park continued to puff away.

On May 23, the city officially banned smoking in all of its 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beachfront in Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s latest effort to stamp out secondhand smoke in public. Park Enforcement Officers can now issue summonses to smokers, potentially leading to a $50 fine.

The ban, which initially had smokers shaking in their boots, seems to have been foiled by one of its most glaring flaws. When Bloomberg pushed the legislation through the City Council in early February, he conceded that the city didn’t have enough personnel to stop every smoker on city Parks Department property and hoped that citizens would “self-enforce.”

On the second day of the ban, many smokers enjoyed their cigarettes freely in Washington Square Park. Vickie Karp, a Parks spokesperson, said that the city hasn’t fined anyone yet, again stressing that citizens should help enforce and smokers should oblige.

During a two-hour period on May 24, at least 11 people defied the ban and park staff eschewed any enforcement. Several of those smoking said that they would continue to smoke even if they were confronted.

Earl Bigs, who has been smoking for “too damn long,” said so far no one had told him not to smoke and, even if they did, he probably wouldn’t stop.

“You could ask me to put it out and if I like the way you ask me, I might put it out,” he said. “I’m just out here enjoying myself. I’m not a criminal so I don’t care what they do.”

Bigs, however, conceded that the ban will likely get him to finally quit smoking, but it still annoys him.

“I think it’s hypocritical,” he said. “They charge you all this for cigarettes with this big tax I got, and they’re still going to charge you $50 more.”

Matthew Duhaime, a guitarist, said that he plays in the park nearly every day and doesn’t intend to follow the ban because he finds it offensive.

“I understand there are certain situations and certain circumstances where smoking in the park may affect people,” he said. “But right now there’s nobody around me, so I’ll continue to smoke. And it’s Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday so, you know, I’m smoking for Bob.”

Duhaime said that he would momentarily stop smoking in the park if the New York Daily News apologized to him. Duhaime was recently detained for allegedly charging President Barack Obama’s motorcade on his recent visit to the World Trade Center site. The Daily News reported that Duhaime claimed to be affiliated with the Secret Service. Duhaime, however, said that earlier that morning he shouted, “Operation Bonerville — Secret Service coming through,” a joke he didn’t intend to have taken literally.

Mario, a former marijuana dealer in the park, was unaware of the ban, but thought that it was ultimately a good idea.

“We shouldn’t look at this as a penalty, but a blessing,” he said. “These things will kills us.”

“But they’re so good!” he added.

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