By Dan Haley
Connections. In Oak Park there are always connections.
At Monday's meeting of the Oak Park village board the topic was changing the village's liquor ordinance to avoid a conflict with incoming President-elect Anan Abu-Taleb whose family holds an Oak Park liquor license for its Maya del Sol restaurant.
The board voted to table the topic and delay it until next Monday's final board meeting because they were short a vote to pass it. But the board did take a few public comments and that's where the connections came clear.
John Gearen Jr. spoke up for Abu-Taleb saying the board should "get past this issue" and that the prohibition on a village official holding a liquor license was written into the law "40 years ago."
Gearen knows that because it was his dad, John Sr., who was village president 40 years back when Oak Park finally began to allow liquor sales after having been dry for many decades. Opening up liquor sales was part of a broader effort in the early 1970s to spur economic development in the village. And that focus was paired with Oak Park's early efforts at racial integration. Gearen Sr. was instrumental as president when Oak Park passed its landmark Open Housing law.
Also testifying Monday was Gene Armstrong, a VMA stalwart and longtime civic volunteer. Armstrong's position was that the board should find a temporary fix for the liquor conflict and then ask the Liquor Control Review Board to consider options for a permanent solution.
Gearen said it was Armstrong as a young attorney who helped write Oak Park's first liquor laws and that it was his dad who insisted on the ban on officials holding liquor licenses. "But that was 40 years ago" and "this is a fairness issue now. You can't make second class citizens out of restaurant owners."
And did we mention that Abu-Taleb is married to Gearen's cousin? Or that the Abu-Taleb's bought John Gearen Sr.'s house and have long lived in it? Or that Abu-Taleb was elected village president on the 20th anniversary of Gearen Sr.'s death?
That's all we've got in the reporter's notebook.