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Anti-BYOB plan in Chicago dries up

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th)  | File

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) | File

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:33AM

It looks like patrons of restaurants, banquet halls and other businesses located in Chicago precincts voted dry — 12 percent of the city — will remain free to BYOB: Bring your own booze.

West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) has told associates she will not push for a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting on the controversial ordinance she pushed through the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety earlier this month.

Graham could not be reached for comment on her political about-face. Sources said she plans to explain her motives on the City Council floor, then ask that the ordinance be held in committee.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have had something to do with Graham’s change of heart about an ordinance she called a legitimate response to constituents concerned about the “intentions” of a banquet hall coming to a precinct they had taken pains to vote dry.

“It’s been deferred already. We’re working through with the sponsors and others to find something that reflects the diverse communities and neighborhoods we have in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said Tuesday.

Pressed on whether that means the ordinance is dead, the mayor said, “I already just answered that question.”

Critics of the ordinance have contended that BYOBs bring foot traffic to commercial strips and, by attracting crowds, promote safety.

They have further argued that, if anything, Chicago has too many dry precincts.

A precinct can be voted dry only if 25 percent of registered voters sign petitions to place the referendum on the ballot and a majority of those who cast ballots in the next election approve it.

During the Oct. 3 committee hearing, a parade of aldermen accused Graham of going too far — potentially putting catering places out of business.

“Do we want to just make this in the 29th Ward? Because I don’t want it in my ward,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th).

Graham initially agreed, only to be told by a city attorney that the B.Y.O.B. crackdown would have to be imposed in all Chicago precincts voted dry, or not at all.

The citywide crackdown was then approved, over the objections of several other aldermen.

“So the correction you’re trying to do in your ward will be imposed upon the city?” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

“I just had a grand opening at a hair salon and they served champagne. That’s not allowed?”

Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) echoed Austin’s concerns.

“In my ward, there’s a few barber shops, Italian-owned, that have some wine in there sometimes for their Italian patrons,” said Sposato, an Italian-American.

“When you say ‘provide,’ do you mean, `sell’ or do you mean `provide’? If Vito has a gallon of wine there and he says, ‘Come on, Mario. Have a glass of wine,’ he’s breaking the law [even] if he’s not selling? These guys are hanger-arounders at some of the barber shops in my ward.”

Local Liquor Control Commissioner Greg Steadman replied, “He’s actually in violation of state law. State law . . . prohibits any business from giving away alcohol for free to patrons for any type of commercial purpose.”

That prompted Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) to ask, “Who regulates BYOB?”

Steadman told the alderman it’s the city — not the state. But, he said, “The only place we do it in Chicago is in sidewalk cafes. There is a rule and regulation . . . that you can’t bring alcohol into a sidewalk cafe. But other than that, there is no other. This would be the first ordinance that I’m ever aware of that would regulate BYOB in any manner.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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