They wouldn't skirt the issues

It was a headline that made every guy on the city hall beat rub his eyes and pinch himself:

"Bar dancers to run for City Council."

Is this heaven? No, it's India.

Suddenly, bored scribes had hope for a brighter future. Sure, there would still be four-hour meetings in cramped, stuffy rooms whose highlights would involve a lengthy discussion of the dog catcher's dental care benefits. But the scenery would improve significantly. Oh, to be on the city beat in Mumbai.

Out-of-work bar dancers there say they may run for office in a bid to overturn a ban on the popular nightspots that once employed them. In 2005 authorities closed down hundreds of dance bars, saying they corrupted young men and bred crime and prostitution.

The dancers say they've been robbed of their livelihood. About 75,000 bar girls have gone elsewhere to find work, and still others remain jobless, according to Reuters news service. Meanwhile, manufacturers of sequined saris face bankruptcy. OK, I made up that last part.

"We have had enough of begging and pleading for our rights," Manjit Singh Sethi, president of the Mumbai Bar Owners' Association, told Reuters. "Now we will try to find representation in the administration so that our concerns are addressed."

Leave it to exotic dancers to save politics. We can only hope this trend reaches the U.S., where strippers seldom run for office. And neither does anyone else.

Apathy is rampant here. In my city, none of the council races are being contested this spring. In one district, no one is running at all.

America would be better off if its communities were rife with dancers passionate about local politics. For one thing, this would make those all-night zoning hearings more interesting to watch. I'm not going to say everyone on every city council I've ever covered is entirely unattractive, but there's a reason their bailiwick is manhole covers rather than magazine covers.

Plus, the cable access stations would get a whole new audience for broadcasts of council meetings. Added to the current audience - which includes prison inmates, sleeping people and house cats - would be legions of teen boys. G-string meets C-SPAN. "Forget Cinemax, fellas: Let's see whether Sassy and Electra demand that Wal-Mart's lawyers come back with an environmental impact assessment before they'll consider voting on the preliminary plat."

Former bar dancers are still deciding whether to run as independent candidates or represent political parties. They're considering starting a party of their own. I hope I'm not too late to suggest a name: The Kama Sutra Party.

They plan to compete for at least 50 of the 227 seats in Mumbai's municipal council on Feb. 1. Fifty exotic dancers in one room? The world hasn't seen that since Charlie Sheen's bachelor party.

Bar dancers say the ban is illegal because it violates their right to choose their calling. The bars were hardly x-rated, with the women dancing to Bollywood numbers wearing saris and displaying little more than their midriffs, they argue. The bar owners and the dance girls had petitioned the state high court that struck down the ban in April. But the government was then granted a stay on that ruling by the Supreme Court, which is still hearing the case. Perhaps the court is awaiting access to the plaintiffs' briefs.

The dancers were emboldened when one of them won a village council election last year. "By winning the election and participating in the administration we want to give a fitting reply to those who banned us," former dancer Chandni Khan said. "Also, we want to fight the corruption in the administration."

I wish I were a resident of Mumbai so I could support this movement. I, too, oppose corruption. And I, too, support a free market for goods and, um, services. But most of all, I support practitioners of the performing arts.

Especially when they give lowly reporters something else to think about during those interminable council meetings.

If you are the editor of the Mumbai newspaper and would like to offer Ben Bromley the city beat, send e-mail to bbromley @capitalnewspapers.com

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