Baltimore's freshman state Sen. Perry Sfikas is solidly in favor of God, country and mom-and-pop bars.
Through skillful maneuvering during the closing minutes of this year's General Assembly session, he amended a liquor bill to outlaw any future mega-bars along the Baltimore waterfront from Little Italy to Canton. The legislation, which is now awaiting the governor's action, also would make it more difficult for liquor board officials or employees to procure "a commission, political contribution, remuneration or gift" from holders of liquor licenses.
Mr. Sfikas has achieved a difficult feat. He can now claim he is a reformer who stood up to liquor interests, when in fact he acted to protect the small-time tavern owners of his district, who have been economically threatened by such changes as the creeping yuppification of some neighborhoods in his district.
In his brief career as an elected official, Mr. Sfikas has been one lucky fellow. In his first try, he won handily a City Council seat, then quickly catapulted himself to Annapolis. Few freshmen legislators make a mark in their first session; Mr. Sfikas spotted a last-minute opportunity and amended a liquor bill beyond recognition. Replicating a tactic he used successfully in engineering a City Council moratorium on incinerators, he drafted language that makes it virtually impossible for investors to get a liquor license for night spots, unless they have fewer than 150 seats and derive at least 80 percent of their revenues from food.
The restrictions on future mega-bar applications have won loud applause from community activists, who contend big bars with hundreds of patrons disturb the peace and quiet of residential neighborhoods in the 46th District.
"What we have found in Fells Point is that homeowners are simply leaving and renting the houses to college kids. The same thing is happening in Canton," the senator says. "You get these drinking factories, churning out these kids. It just had to be controlled."
The Sfikas amendments make him a popular person in East Baltimore.
The question is: Should a state liquor law be used for strictly parochial purposes in a way that may interfere with the jurisdiction of city planning and zoning agencies?