State House News Q&A: Mayoral candidates on liquor licensing

In response to a News Service questionnaire, ten of the 12 candidates for mayor of Boston offered their positions on how state law could be altered to allow for more liquor licenses for the city. Currently, the Legislature selectively grants additional licenses for communities, but Boston has for years operated at the maximum number of licenses, creating high demand and steep prices for existing licenses. Mayor Thomas Menino supports a home rule petition from City Councilor Ayanna Pressley that would allow the city to do away with the cap and regulate its own licensing.

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QUESTION: Should state law be changed to allow the city more control over the issuance of liquor licenses in Boston? How so?

JOHN CONNOLLY: It is too expensive and too cumbersome for small restaurant owners to obtain a license. If they can't obtain a license, then it means they might not be able to keep their business alive or open it in the first place -- and that means lost investment in our neighborhoods, lost jobs, lost amenities and services for residents, and lost opportunities with real mixed-use, transit oriented development. It should be up to Boston, not the state, to decide how to revitalize our neighborhoods. That is why I strongly support the home rule petition filed by Councilor Ayanna Pressley to return authority for the restaurant liquor licensing process to the city of Boston.

FELIX ARROYO: Boston is a prosperous city and all of our neighborhoods should share in that prosperity. Right now, there is an inequitable distribution of liquor licenses so that there are some neighborhoods that are overly saturated with places that serve alcohol and some neighborhoods where there is nowhere for a resident to go to celebrate a special occasion with a meal and drinks. The cap on liquor licenses has created an environment in our city that is difficult for new restaurants and small businesses to open. In the end, the city should have control over its own licenses and having control over the cap will allow us to ensure that small businesses can thrive in all of our communities.

BILL WALCZAK: We should absolutely allow that to happen. There is tremendous disproportion in liquor licensure in Boston, where we see some neighborhoods with hundreds of liquor licenses and some with fewer than 10. Any way we can support our local businesses and as a result, our local economy, we must take the opportunity to do so, particularly in making sure that the process for licensure is fair. Because the city has a better sense of neighborhoods in need of equity in licensure, the city rather than the state is better equipped to determine the issuing of liquor licenses. I would work with our Boston legislative delegation and City Council to push for the reform.

MICHAEL ROSS: As Mayor, I'll fight for Boston to have more control over the number and location of where we offer liquor licenses. Councilor Ayanna Pressley has proposed a home rule petition to grant municipalities greater control over distributing licenses, which I support and would support it as Mayor. In particular, I favor Empowerment Liquor Licenses that would be dedicated to underserved communities and cannot be sold or transferred to downtown or neighborhoods saturated with liquor licenses. That's one way we can encourage more growth and development in our neighborhoods, which means jobs and stronger communities.

JOHN BARROS: In general, local municipalities, in a transparent process with neighborhoods, are in the best position to determine the appropriateness of issuing specific liquor licenses to package stores or to restaurants/bars. Boston should have more control over the issuance of liquor licenses. I would also advocate a simplification of the current 3-step process that requires approval from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

DAN CONLEY: Restaurants contribute to the economic base and livability of neighborhoods. State control of liquor licenses drives up prices, locks out young restaurateurs, and steers new restaurants to neighboring cities and towns. The system favors larger chains and established interests and puts enormous obstacles in front of young restaurateurs. The system also makes it hard for neighborhoods like Mattapan and emerging business districts like Dudley Square to locate restaurants for residents to walk to, come together, or simply have a glass of beer or wine with dinner. I intend to fight for Boston control of liquor licenses, including the decision on how many to issue, and will do everything in my power to bring residents, business owners, and leaders from other cities and towns to find common cause.

ROBERT CONSALVO: I do support improvements to the current liquor license system, but only where community impacts are carefully considered. I have consistently supported legislation to return the issuance of liquor licenses to Boston and I certainly support Councilor Ayanna Pressley's home rule petition. Additionally, I support the appointment of license board members by the mayor, not the governor. The control should be given to the city, not the state.

MARTIN WALSH: Currently, the licensing process unfairly hurts the people who revitalize neighborhoods - small business owners, and it perpetuates the unfair advantage that more developed, higher-income pockets of Boston already have. It also prevents Boston from being able to compete nationally with other metropolitan cities. The root of the problem is that the state law limits the number of liquor licenses available to cities, while imposing an especially hard cap on Boston based licenses. As a result, new licenses are rarely given out, but the restaurant owners in the more affluent areas are still able to buy licenses from less developed areas like Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. As pointed out by a Boston Globe Editorial about Councilor Pressley's proposal, which I support, these neighborhoods, already in need of redevelopment, are excluded from key neighborhood revitalization efforts that depend on a thriving restaurant industry, because of the scarcity and high cost of liquor licenses. The $300,000 cost of a license places an impossible financial burden on small business. I pride myself on being an advocate for working people. As Mayor, I will support any effort that helps people start restaurants and similar vehicles of neighborhood revitalization in places where our people actually live.

CHARLES YANCEY: The City of Boston should have more control over issuance of liquor licenses in Boston. A Home Rule petition permitting this should be passed by the City Council, Mayor, House, Senate and the Governor.

CHARLOTTE GOLAR RICHIE: Currently state law limits the number of alcohol licenses in cities and towns across the state and imposes a hard cap on licenses in Boston. Accordingly, as restaurants open across the city, the city Licensing Board often has no licenses to issue for those new businesses. The current law limits the growth of new restaurants in our neighborhoods and in our Downtown area, including the Seaport district. In order to promote economic development and job creation in the city, I would support a proposal like the one offered by Councilor Ayanna Pressley. This would change state law to allow for local control so our city's Licensing Board could determine the number of licenses to issue to neighborhood businesses. As I understand her proposal, the Licensing Board would still screen license applicants and solicit neighborhood comment as required under the present law. This law change would help restaurants in our neighborhoods and across the city grow.

The News Service sent the questionnaire to the campaigns of candidates Charles Clemons and David Wyatt. Those campaigns did not respond to the questionnaire before publication.



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