In the early 1970s, Village President John Gearen asked me to chair a blue ribbon committee of Oak Parkers to consider whether to change the ban on the sale of liquor in our village. As chair of what became known as the Liquor Committee, I was at the center of the debate. For this reason, the question in the current election as to whether the village president may hold a liquor license is of special interest to me. In my view, Mr. Abu-Taleb is not eligible to serve as president of the Oak Park village board because he, or his wife or other family member, holds a liquor license issued by our village.

Members of the Liquor Committee and most Oak Parkers were well aware of the unsavory problems neighboring “wet” communities faced because elected officials and government employees, or members of their families, were allowed to hold — or to have a personal or financial interest in establishments whose owners hold — valuable liquor licenses issued by those municipalities: Sweetheart deals, kickbacks, bribes and lack of effective enforcement of their liquor ordinances.

The members of the Liquor Committee knew that unless we addressed the potential for such unintended consequences, we could not recommend that Oak Park allow the sale of liquor. The only effective solution was to prohibit elected officials and village employees from directly or indirectly holding or benefiting from any liquor license issued by the village.

That principle was the starting point for all that followed. The Liquor Committee submitted a report recommending that Oak Park allow the limited sale of liquor in our village. I was the principal draftsman of the committee’s report and the suggested liquor licensing ordinance. The village board accepted our report and adopted the ordinance we recommended.

We have enjoyed nearly a half century of Oak Park being a “wet” community. We have become a fine dining destination because restaurants can serve liquor. We have avoided the scandals that have plagued neighboring communities by insisting on a fundamental principle: neither elected officials nor government employees nor members of their families may hold a liquor license or have a financial or personal interest in an establishment that holds a liquor license.

I strongly believe that this principle must be preserved. Accordingly, so long as Mr. Abu-Taleb or a member of his family holds a liquor license, or if he has a financial or personal interest in an establishment that holds a liquor license, he is not and should not be eligible to serve as village president. I am not persuaded by the fact that he found a lawyer who advises that he can get around our village’s liquor and ethics ordinances. Nor am I swayed by the argument that the protections contained in these ordinances are inconsequential or obsolete. They are not.

We need a village president who will honor and uphold the principles that underlie our ordinances, not one who would try to avoid or subvert them.

Gene Armstrong

Oak Park

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