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On some blocks, residents asking neighbors to ban liquor sales

by Daniel Lambert
Oct 09, 2008

Liquor stores, bars and taverns might begin to disappear on certain blocks in Chicago’s South Side after this November’s election.

Four precincts in the 8th Ward and one in the 5th Ward will ask voters to decide on Nov. 4th whether to ban the retail sale of liquor on those blocks. An Illinois state law allows voters to decide, precinct by precinct, whether alcohol can be sold in their neighborhoods.

The precincts in the 8th Ward that would be affected by the vote are the 11th, 13th, 22nd and 43rd. The precinct in the 5th Ward is the 8th, which sits at 57th Street and Stony Island in Hyde Park.

Precincts throughout Chicago have already taken advantage of the law with dry votes. In the Edgewater neighborhood a precinct was voted dry in 2003. After four years of appeals, the ban went into effect in May 2007.

“It did not solve the problem, but there was a noticeable difference,” said David Rowe, executive director of the Edgewater Community Council.

The ban has made a difference on a personal level for Rowe, who said he is in recovery.

“It helps a lot that I don’t have to walk through a group of people lying on the ground, it just makes it so much easier,” Rowe said.

The Edgewater community has also been successful in pursuing alternative ways of dealing with the problem, Rowe said.

His organization struck a deal with local alcohol sellers to stop selling specific types of liquor that are popular with people drinking on the street. This alternative requires all liquor vendors to agree, which can be difficult.

However, it is a much cheaper process than seeking a ban through the ballot box. Pursuing a referendum-level solution requires a substantial amount of money, especially for legal fees, Rowe said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has also been involved banning the retail sale of liquor in parts of his ward.

“It had a huge impact on my ward,” Beale said. “They were using the liquor stores as a front to sell drugs.”

Beale says drugs and prostitution have substantially declined as the number of liquor stores in his ward has dropped by over two-thirds. Beale echoes Rowe’s description on the difficulties involved with drying out precincts.

“It’s definitely a huge undertaking,” Beale said. The difficulty often lies with counteracting the liquor industry’s efforts to defeat the referendum.

Money aside, the process involved is also significant. It involves obtaining information from several agencies regarding registered voters and liquor licensees in the precinct. In addition, the referendum may only appear on a general election ballot.

Once a petition is generated, 25 percent of registered voters in the precinct must sign on.

A single contested signature can invalidate the entire petition. The petition can only be circulated in a specified time period. The final petition must be filed with the City Clerk no later than 90 days before the election.

If the referendum passes it is enforced 30 days after the election by the Chicago Police Department.

Greg Steadman, general counsel in the City’s Business Affairs and Licensing office, says petitions are often started by average citizens.

Attempts to dry out a precinct are most often stalled at the petition level, Steadman said. However, if they make it to the ballot stage, these types of referenda often pass, Steadman said.