Monday, September 04, 2006

Spano Hearing Thursday

This Thursday at 10:00 am State Senator Nick Spano will be holding a hearing on a wide range of liquor license issues. Foremost among these is the question of whether bars and clubs should be forced to close earlier. From the industry standpoint any reduction of business hours is a dire threat to the profitability of the entire sector, including restaurants who rely on late seatings.

All of this stems, of course, from the series of isolated tragic instances this summer. As tragic as they were, when you have over 64 million customer transactions a year they amount to only a very small fraction of the overall business that is done in these venues (which is peaceful as well as profitable to both the city as well as to the industry).

Much of the trouble stems from the problems that arise from the societal issue of underage drinking. This is a challenge to a great many stakeholders, and not just to the people who own bars, clubs and liquor stores. Yet, it is only the club owner who has had the bullseye placed right on his/her chest.

Which is illustrated in an article that appeared in the NY Post on Sunday. The article focused on John Bakhshi, the owner of Guest House, the club that Jennifer Moore had frequented before she was killed on the night of July 24th. Bakhshi is looking to purchase Spirit, a club that has been under a great deal of regulatory scrutiny recently, so much so that its owner wants out of the business.

Well this news has led the Post to scurrilously question whether Bakhshi is "trustworthy" enough to purchase another business. So, with no real details about just what happened in Guest House that fateful evening people are looking to trash a club owner's reputation. Did Guest House act irresponsibly, or did Moore have a phony ID and knowingly look to use this to violate the law?

The Post goes on to salaciously accuse Bakhshi by interviewing the mother of Jennifer's friend who was with her on the night she was killed. Naomi Kenan tells the paper, "The owner hasn't proved he's trustworthy...Why should he be able to increase his business? It's outrageous."

No, what's outrageous is the way in which the media here is trying to ruin someone's reputation when there has been no determination that the club did anything wrong. And even if it did, the epidemic of underage drinking is not something that can't be fully controlled by any one business. Why isn't this parent outraged that the police towed the girls' car?

Towards the end of the Post article we get the real essence of the overall problem here. Ms. Kenan argues that Bakhshi is irresponsible because "...this guy lets kids in and they drink. That's not running it right...Of course kids are going to try to get in. It's up to the owners to stop it from happening."

This is a breathtaking point-of-view. Kids, her kid in this case, knowingly looks to violate the law and it's only the club owner's fault! But it shouldn't be just up to the owners at all. That's been NYNA's point all along. Everyone-including parents Ms. Kenan-need to take more responsibility. Did Kenan know where her daughter was going that night and what she was planning to do?

If young people are going to drink we need to make them culpable for breaking the law. At the same time we need to make the environment around the clubs safer as well. Towing cars on the Far West Side in the middle of the night is not being responsible for the safety of the public. Is the revenue worth it?

On Thursday the NYNA folks will be out in force to defend their industry from scapegoating. We need for responsible leaders to step forward so that we can make sure that, while people are kept safe, an important business sector is allowed to grow and prosper.