By Nick Kotsopoulos
WORCESTER — The circus, complete with its lions, tigers and elephants, is still welcome in this city.
The City Council Tuesday night rejected a call for the drafting of an ordinance that would have banned the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses that perform here. The vote was 8-3, with Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes, District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri and District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera voting in opposition.
Mrs. Lukes, who advocated for the ban as the past chairman of the council's Public Health and Human Services Committee, said the intent of her order was not to ban circuses in the city, but rather to ban the use of animals that are subject to extinction, such as elephants.
She said circuses exploit such animals for profit and she believes it is "time to right a wrong" by banning their use in circuses that come here.
But Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney, who pushed to have a council vote taken on the matter after it had been tabled last month, said the proposal was not just about banning elephants in circuses.
He said he believes that animal-rights advocates would eventually move to have animals banned in other things, such as petting zoos.
"This is the first step of saying we shouldn't have animals period," Mr. Gaffney said.
Meanwhile, District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen argued it was time for the council to put the issue to rest.
He said the council had become mired down talking about whether it should ban a legal business such as a circus at a time when it has so many other important issues requiring its attention.
Mr. Rosen said if people object to wild and exotic animals performing at circuses held in the city, then they simply shouldn't go to them.
"What are we doing even talking about this?" Mr. Rosen asked. "I think we're foolish to be talking about banning a legal business from coming to Worcester. If people have a problem with the circus, then they should stay away, but they shouldn't tell others they can't go."
Last year, the City Council Public Health and Human Services Committee asked the Law Department to review a model ordinance drafted by Born Free USA, a national animal advocacy group.
As part of its recommendation, the committee has also asked the city administration to draft an ordinance along the lines of the model ordinance that would keep out circuses and traveling shows that feature elephants, tigers, lions and chimpanzees.
At the request of Mayor Joseph M. Petty, the council tabled the proposal until it received a report from the city administration on the impact of such a ban.
In a report that went before the council Tuesday night, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the proposal raises a number of concerns, including legal issues since it would ban an activity permitted by state and federal law.
City Solicitor David M. Moore said it is his opinion that any municipal ordinance prohibiting the use of wild and exotic animals in circuses staged in the city would be "invalidated" as preempted by federal and state law.
He said it would also trigger contractual issues between the city and SMG, the company that manages the city-owned DCU Center.
SMG reports that the circus has an economic impact of $1.5 million during those years it comes to the DCU Center.
That economic impact includes ticket revenue, concessions, merchandise and parking for the approximately 20,000 people who attend the circus shows at the DCU Center.
Ms. Rivera said if Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was not allowed to come back to the city, she believes that families would spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere in the community.
"That money will be spent in the local economy whether the circus is in town or not," she said. "Families will find a place to take their children. Putting dollars to such (animal) cruelty; we have to ask ourselves what kind of a community we are? This is a serious issue and something we need to consider."