Having just finished rereading the [October 2] cover story "The New Prohibition" [by Neal Pollack] and its side story "Bracing for the Battle of Uptown" [by Joy Bergmann], I am shocked and offended. I am one of the vote-dry petitioners of the 32nd Precinct of the 46th Ward, and I noted numerous factual inaccuracies in this article. In addition, your reporters wrote with an incredibly misleading bias and journalistic ethics and style that made me shudder.
The title alone is misleading and inappropriate. "Prohibition" reminds one of a teetotaling society coerced by gestapolike raids in the early part of this century. While I cannot speak for other vote-dry efforts in the city, ours has no intention of stopping or even controlling the drinking of responsible adults in this area. Most of those involved with the petition are at least occasional drinkers ourselves and intend to so continue. The subtitle "no bar or liquor store is safe" is again incorrect; in our precinct, at least, we would have welcomed a clean, safe, responsibly run business. Since our efforts to work with the current managements have not worked, and the area police are simply too understaffed to catch all violations, this is a last resort of sorts.
Your writers need to verify their "facts." The Reader states that the Best Steak House has a "spotless record"--please check again to see if they were closed just this summer for selling to minors. The owner claims that his employee was misled into signing a petition; I don't know how that happened. Not only did all petitioners involved attempt to secure signatures honestly, but the petition was written in full above each signature page, with the businesses involved listed. If the employee didn't understand the implications, perhaps that person is not intelligent or responsible enough to be serving alcohol in any area. The article implies that the business owners had no knowledge of this movement, but the owner of Azusa Liquors talked to me personally as I walked my dog to ask me to revoke my signature. He volunteered in that conversation that the Kenmore Street neighbors had been asking him to make changes.
In fact, none of these businesses are required to close if the initiative passes; they may stay and sell the nonalcoholic products that they do now.
The reporter's selections of whom to interview was odd, if not biased in itself. While the article mentioned the name and every owner's name of the businesses involved, only one resident of our precinct was interviewed. While the alderman maintains an address in our precinct, the statements of a politician up for reelection may not always reflect the neighborhood's best interests, especially when a campaign depends on the financial donations of area businesses. It is sad that Alderman Shiller does not have knowledge of the problems at the Best Steak House, just doors from her office, and that she is so willing to condemn the views of the hundreds of people in her ward who signed this petition. The statement from Phoebe Helm of Truman College, "It's not a very neighborly solution. We ought to be working together," made me laugh out loud. Not only does Ms. Helm not live in this neighborhood, she skipped a meeting to discuss this issue, without ever an explanation, apology, or reschedule to some of us who sat in a conference room for almost an hour waiting for her.
Please allow me, as a resident of this precinct, as someone whose paycheck does not ride on this outcome, and as someone who circulated many of the petitions, to give you the other side of the story. The liquor stores here sell primarily 40-ounce beers and flasks of hard alcohol and rarely refuse a sale to people who are obviously intoxicated. There are alcoholics wandering our streets who yell at the children playing, leave broken bottles all over the sidewalks, and stagger in the busy streets. There are habitual loiterers in front of these stores at all open hours, day and night, drinking in public, urinating on the buildings, and harassing passersby.
It is not the responsibility of any private business to solve the problems of alcoholism, homelessness, or crime. However, it is reasonable to expect that the owners should run their businesses responsibly in light of these issues. They need to clean up the sidewalks in front of their stores, chase away the loiterers, and call the police when obvious crimes are being committed in view. The drive-by shooting that took place in March down an entire block of Magnolia Avenue would most likely not have happened if an employee of Sunrise Liquors had notified police of the gang fighting that was happening in front of their store.
The Reader article unconscionably failed to mention the laws involved, which seem to be anticommunity. I was one of the 70 residents to take time off from my job to attend the May Liquor Commission hearing about Sunrise Liquors. Commissioner Mardis informed us of the technical difference between a crime at a store's location and one outside the premises. Unfortunately, this semantic difference allows the store to stay open; it will be irrelevant if a resident gets shot.
What offends me most about this article was the implication that the vote-dry movement is about the new residents pushing out the long-term residents of this neighborhood. This is simply not true and is part of a recurring attempt to divide the residents here. I feel I know this because I spent the summer ringing doorbells and meeting residents. I talked to a man who has lived in this area since 1969, who doubted a vote-dry would pass but firmly supported and signed the petition. I met more than one elderly woman who will not walk on Wilson Avenue, even in the daytime, because of the loiterers and crime at the liquor stores. There are many local residents, longtime and brand-new, who drive or scrimp for a cab to go two or three blocks to the supermarket because they fear walking past Azusa Liquors on Montrose.
All of us in this neighborhood, no matter what race, income, age, occupation, housing status, or length of residency, deserve to be safe, happy, and comfortable on our streets. It is a shame that a few people with political offices or ill-gained profits to protect are trying to take away our democratic rights and sense of community for their own gain. It is also a shame that the Reader is assisting them.
Joy Bergmann replies:
The Uptown article contained quotes from Rae Mindock and Nicole Watson, two petitioners from the 32nd Precinct. It also quoted two 35th Precinct petitioners, David Rowe and Michael McElroy. I also interviewed petitioner Mark Watson from the 32nd and organizer Brian Bakke from the nearby 22nd. By my math that's six petitioners contacted and four quoted. In addition to the liquor licensees, the story had input from the democratically elected alderman, a neighborhood development and improvement advocate, the president of a major area enterprise--Truman College--and a local beat cop.
In reference to Azusa Liquors, Kenny Ghawi did indeed tell me he had had constructive communications with Buena Park Neighbors. However, these residents do not live in the 32nd Precinct voting area. The groups passing petitions, i.e. Sheridan Park Neighbors, had not contacted Ghawi about making changes to his business.
"A responsibly-run business" already exists (for now, anyway): the Best Steak House. No one I spoke with had a specific beef with the restaurant and Mike Boyce from the Liquor Licensing Commission confirms that this establishment was not closed for any sort of liquor violation. Perhaps Mr. Carmody is confused about the restaurant being closed for six months following a devastating, building-wide fire in November 1996.
Finally, swaddling arguments in an elderly woman's shawl demonstrates that petitioners themselves wear no clothes. My article accurately reported the violations of licensees and the concerns of vote-dry campaigners.