We were nearly knocked off our barstools last week to hear that Dennis Murphy has decided to make Poor Phil's smoke free. We're surprised mostly because Murphy has been among the staunchest opponents to a proposal to ban smoking at indoor workplaces, including restaurants. And secondly, because we suspected that if opponents of the ban were right, that Poor Phil's would be one of the local spots hit hardest by a smoking ban because of its emphasis on alcohol sales.
Though he remains opposed to legislating an issue he sees as a matter of choice for business owners, we enthusiastically applaud Murphy's choice. This is a notable moment in which we will find out if non-smokers will support Poor Phil's, at least as actively, as smokers have over many years. And will smokers accept the restriction and not head to Forest Park for a cigarette with their beer and b-ball game?
While sympathetic to the debate over choice, we continue to support a government ban on indoor smoking?#34;in some fashion. We think that as a matter of public health, it is one of those places where government has a role to play. But, of course, it is better when the market drives this change. Murphy, one of Oak Park's entrepreneurial leaders for three decades, has been watching, and he believes the family and non-smoking population is going to make this change work. We know that other businesses in town will be watching Poor Phil's closely.
The risks associated with secondhand smoking are undoubtedly more on Oak Parkers minds these days, and this is due in large part due to the effort brought on by Campaign for a Smoke Free Oak Park.
The debate over a smoking ban has, at times, been an ugly battle between these two groups. We hope Murphy's decision not only puts Oak Park closer to going smoke-free, but will also help everyone realize that smoking ban proponents and business don't have to be enemies.
Smoke-free Oak Park members say they're getting ready to pack Poor Phil's next week in celebration. While the village board sorts where this issue will land on its calendar, we'll all be watching to see if the rest of Oak Park does the same.
Best chance to fix schools
District 97, through its legislative advocacy committee, is pushing aggressively to reform education funding in the state. Right now, with House Bill 755, the so-called Tax Swap bill, showing some traction in Springfield, the district took a bus-full of local supporters to the state capital last week to lobby local legislators.
The bill is not perfect. But the concept is essential. Illinois has to do better in funding public education. Taking the brunt of that funding off of property tax and onto incomes is logical and progressive.
Unfortunately, Illinois is saddled with a weak governor who made the showboat pledge to not raise taxes. While Rod Blagojevich is still doing the political calculus on whether a tax swap qualifies as a tax hike, his political calculation doesn't change the need to push this measure through. That's why it is important for Oak Park and River Forest to contact their legislators?#34;by phone, letter or e-mail?#34;to let them know that fixing this broken system of funding schools is a priority.
Spring is always a time of bittersweet passages in local schools. This year, among many, Oak Park's District 97 says farewell to its irreplaceable Ellen Holleman, who has inspired Oak Park's musical middle schoolers for 16 years. Sometimes, keeping the attention of budding pre-teen musicians is an achievement in itself. But Ms. Holleman has done so much more than that. She's given many young students the confidence to move onto careers in music, and has been a strong, remarkably positive influence on both those she taught and their families.