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Steep fines sought to keep ‘idiots’ from S. Side Irish Parade

Thousands line Western Avenue watch South Side Irish Parade last March.  |  Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Thousands line Western Avenue to watch the South Side Irish Parade last March. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:09PM



After being “hijacked by idiots” who drank themselves silly, as the local alderman put it, the South Side Irish Parade made a family-oriented comeback last March.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) wants to make certain there’s no going back to the bad old days.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, O’Shea introduced an ordinance that would throw the book at those caught drinking on the public way within 200 feet of a parade in progress.

The minimum fine for adults would increase five-fold — from $100 to $500. The maximum fine would double — from $500 to $1,000. The alternative to the higher fines would be up to six months in jail.

Adults who relieve themselves in public within 200 feet of a parade in progress would face similar fines and anywhere from five to 10 days behind bars.

Minors caught drinking in the shadows of a parade would be slapped with $500 fines or required to perform 25 hours of community service.

The proposed crackdown comes nearly eight months after the South Side Irish Parade made a triumphant return from a three-year hiatus caused by public drunkenness and arrests.

The parade committee spent heavily to rid the parade of its seedier elements. Private security was hired to work with Chicago Police, set up checkpoints, confiscate liquor and enforce a “zero-tolerance policy” for open alcohol.

Passengers were banned from bringing booze on Metra Rock Island trains. North Side bars were discouraged from chartering buses. Buses that did roll up were corralled into drop-off points. Leaflets were distributed to local residents outlining the new rules. A hotline, with text-messaging support, was available to neighbors to report problems.

The result was a family-oriented event that celebrated Irish heritage in a way that resulted in only a handful of arrests hours after and blocks away from the parade. Why the crackdown after all of that success?

“This started out back in 1979 as a wonderful community event and, at some point several years ago, it was hijacked from us. I don’t want that to happen again. . .. What those idiots did to our community is not gonna be allowed,” O’Shea said.

“The message . . . [earlier this year] was sent through a very aggressive PR campaign. What I’ve been told in talking to law enforcement officials is, ‘That was great. It was safe. [But] the idiots will come back next year or two years or three years from now.’ Whatever I can do each year to try to keep them away, I’m gonna do. I don’t want to ever relax.”

O’Shea argued that the existing fines were too low to serve as a deterrent.

“We had an individual go to the bathroom in Aisle 2 at the local CVS. It was thrown out,” he said.

Joe Connelly, co-chair of the 2013 South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, said he worked with O’Shea to draft an ordinance that would “reinforce the values of a safe, family-friendly” parade.

“It’s one thing if you’re gonna get a slap on the wrist. It’s another thing to know, ‘That beer just cost me $500.’ It reinforces the values of the parade and the behaviors we will and won’t tolerate,” Connelly said. “We hope it’ll make people think twice before bringing alcohol to the parade route and trying to have a drink while watching . . . The parade is for the families of the neighborhood. It’s for children and grandparents. It’s not about trying to create a Mardi Gras experience down Western Avenue.”



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