One of Mayor Nutter’s Last Proposals Is Probably Already Dead

His plan to ban cigarette sales in drug stores looks kaput. Did Council thwart him again?

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter walks down a blocked off Market Street, with City Hall in the background, in Philadelphia on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, before Pope Francis' trip. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter walks down Market Street, with City Hall in the background. | Photo by Mel Evans/Associated Press

Mayor Michael Nutter has two short months left in office to shape his legacy in the minds of Philadelphians.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco introduced a bill earlier this month on the mayor’s behalf that, if it passes, could easily make an appearance in future news articles about Nutter’s strikingly successful efforts to lower the city’s smoking rate. The legislation would bar cigarette sales in drug stores, a natural last move for an elected official who signed a cigarette tax into law, prohibited smoking in local parks, and helped push through a citywide smoking ban in bars and restaurants.

Just a couple weeks after the drug store proposal was introduced, though, it looks as if it’s already dead.

A public hearing on the legislation had been scheduled for October 22nd in City Council’s chambers. Last Thursday, a clerk for City Council sent an email to reporters and others saying that it had been cancelled. He gave no indication that it would be rescheduled.

Why was the hearing called off? Did Big Tobacco work behind the scenes to kill it? And does this mean the bill is DOA? We asked several city officials those questions, but none of them could (or would) say.

  • Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, declined comment.
  • Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke, said she did not know why the hearing had been cancelled and referred me to Councilwoman Marian Tasco.
  • Crystal Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Tasco, provided this statement when asked about the axed hearing: “They haven’t decided yet to have a hearing.” Who is “they,” and does her comment mean the bill could live another day? She would not say. As chairwoman of Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services, Tasco has the power to schedule a public hearing on the bill.
  • Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the vice chairwoman of the committee, said she had not “received a clear answer” about the hearing’s cancellation.
  • A couple calls to lobbyists for Big Tobacco went unreturned.

When a City Council hearing is mysteriously killed, that usually means that the legislation is dead.

To be fair, Council’s hearings are cancelled and then rescheduled from time to time, and that could theoretically happen with this bill. It seems unlikely, though. In addition to the fact that city officials are being suspiciously tight-lipped about the legislation, it appeared to never have much support on Council. Tasco was the lone sponsor of the bill.

Ironically, the legislation could end up being remembered as part of Nutter’s legacy, though probably not in the way he originally intended. This is arguably yet another example of how Nutter failed to play nice with Council, or how Council thwarted Nutter’s agenda, depending on how you see things.