Sex and violence at City Hall

The air was thick with estrogen and irony. Two city councilwomen nearly took off the gloves over legislation aimed at gals who take off their clothes.

That’s so hot!

The girls’ room smack talk between Detroit Councilwomen Sharon McPhail and Kay Everett last week made national TV news, but nearly lost in the whole imbroglio is the fact that their tiff came as the council passed a law placing strict and, detractors claim, unconstitutional restrictions on adult entertainment.

The law requires that dancers be registered voters, or have a green card, and it prohibits them from mingling with patrons — no more lap dances, guys, no chats when a dancer is not onstage. Bars can no longer audition dancers during business hours. And all-nude dancing at non-alcoholic clubs is now a no-no.

The law passed on a 6-1 vote. Councilman Alonzo Bates voted no. Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel was in Lansing, and Council President Maryann Mahaffey was nursing a virus. The two absentees opposed the ordinance, and had asked that the vote be delayed to allow more discussion. The Association of Club Executives (ACE) wanted to compromise, and met in another room with city lawyers during the council session. The council didn’t feel compelled to hear any results of those talks.

McPhail pushed for an immediate vote. That’s what ticked off Everett, who chaired the meeting. (Everett wound up voting for the law, in spite of her standoff with McPhail.)

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s signature, and a printing in The Detroit Legal News, would make the ordinance a law. But council members say they want to discuss possible amendments first.

That matters little to the club execs who plan to sue the city, saying the law is unconstitutional. Brad Shafer, an attorney for ACE, says the council should have listened to reason. “If I don’t want to register to vote, I don’t want to register to vote,” says Shafer of the voter registration/green card requirement. “It’s like saying the clerk at Blockbuster has to have a voter registration card in order to work there. It’s ridiculous.”

“The City of Detroit is telling us dancers can’t mingle with customers,” says Nicholas J. Faranso, owner of Tycoon’s in Detroit and BT’s in Dearborn. “That’s unconstitutional. How can you tell me a dancer can’t talk to a customer?”

Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State, agrees, but sees ways around the law. “Nobody has to vote,” he says, “but you can demand proof of citizenship. A voting card is proof of citizenship.”

First Amendment rights are pretty specific, Sedler says. “It protects the expression of the idea of sexuality. Nude dancing is part of protected speech. It protects the dancing itself. The state can prohibit physical contact, and it can require scant clothing — pasties or g-strings. It can prohibit serving alcohol.”

Detroit is not the only city to muddle through this. A move by the Los Angeles City Council to ban lap-dancing last year was met by similar cries of unconstitutionality. The law was abandoned when the city compromised with a neighborhood cluster of clubs at the center of the controversy, as opposed to imposing broad, untenable regulations on every club in town.

Bates says this is no way to regulate adult entertainment. “They’re all gonna go underground,” he says, adding that the city might create an illegal industry and lose millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Shafer contends that adult entertainment generates more than $300 million annually, from payroll, taxes and goods purchased.

McPhail, who says she’s looking out for Detroiters who don’t want a proliferation of strip clubs, called the vote a great victory. The council has agreed to revisit the ordinance to see where amendments might be needed. Perhaps McPhail and Everett will agree to mud wrestle. That’s so hot!

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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