In looking for a solution to an embarrassing problem, West Side Ald. Deborah Graham is asking the City Council and the rest of Chicago to help cover up her mistakes. By any measure, both should say no.
As reported Thursday, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety approved a measure prohibiting Chicago businesses in “dry” precincts from allowing patrons to consume alcohol even if they bring it themselves. Although she denies any connection, her proposal comes days after the Chicago Tribune broke a story detailing how Graham helped clear the path for a new liquor store bankrolled by a convicted felon with city money in a West Side commercial district residents long ago voted dry.
And now she wants the whole thing to go away by making small business and restaurant patrons across the city suffer needlessly.
Graham, who was initially a protégée of convicted alderman Ike Carothers and succeeded him as 29th Ward alderman, initially tried to restrict the proposal to her own ward, but was informed by the city’s Law Department that the move would have to be imposed in all Chicago precincts voted dry or not at all. Undaunted, Graham pushed for passage of her ordinance out of committee despite the objections of several other alderman whose own wards would be affected.
Around 12 percent of the precincts across the city have been voted dry, meaning liquor sales are banned within their borders. While restaurants in these districts have historically accommodated these bans by allowing customers to bring in their own alcohol—a practice known as BYOB—restaurateurs and other small business owners in these areas have long struggled to match the sales of their competition with no such restriction.
Whether Graham’s effort is in response to the recent scandal over a particular liquor store opened by a convicted felon or not, it’s clear Graham has long raised the ire of many of her constituents with her controversial approach to businesses seeking exemptions from liquor or other zoning laws. Earlier this year, Graham backed the zoning change for a pawn shop on a stretch of North Avenue in the Galewood neighborhood that had heated community opposition. The location, currently in Ald. Spasato’s 36th Ward, will be moved to the 29th after the new ward map takes effect in 2015.
Graham herself cited another controversy as part of her reasoning for the proposal, this time involving a proposed banquet hall called “Behind Closed Doors” that is seeking an exemption from the liquor ban and would be located on a stretch of North Ave. that is also voted dry. Neighborhood residents have opposed such a move, citing a lack of information on the banquet hall’s intentions and business model.
If passed by the full City Council and turned into law, a ban on BYOB establishments in dry precincts would not only hurt existing businesses, but would also hinder any future economic development. Many of the city’s dry precincts have been voted that way in response to prior problems with alcohol, either through too many liquor stores or too many problems with patrons breaking the law.
Banning BYOB sales in respectable establishments would simply mean restaurants and other businesses would go elsewhere to set up shop, and help keep these dry districts from turning themselves around.
It’s clear Ald. Graham has a plate full of political problems, both with her constituents and the way she does business in her ward. There’s no reason why she should be allowed to ask the rest of the city to cover the bill for her mistakes.