After a short but spirited debate, the Common Council voted to withdraw a measure that would have allowed the International Socialist Organization to sell its papers on State Street.
The ISO has been ticketed in recent years for selling its biweekly, The Socialist Worker, on the 400 block of State Street. City officials informed the group that selling non-handcrafted goods is in violation of the vending ordinance, which only allows handcrafted items to be sold on State Street. In response, the ISO and other community members have urged the city to change its policy on free speech grounds.
The organization found allies in Ald. Mike Verveer, who sits on the Vending Oversight Committee, as well as in the Downtown Coordinating Committee and the Street Use Staff Commission, both of which approved the measure.
However, the Vending Oversight Committee ultimately rejected the proposal, with Verveer casting the only vote in favor of the exemption. In making his case for the ISO before the Council, Verveer called the group "a Madison institution" and emphasized the limited nature of its distribution (once a week).
Opponents emphasized a need to have consistent standards for vending, as well as the danger of one exemption leading to a floodgate of vendors on State St who would disturb the local, handcraft focus of the neighborhood. Newspapers do not fall under the city's definition of "handcrafts."
"State Street was meant to be a specialty shopping district and the handcraft requirement is in line with that vision," said Ald. Bridget Maniaci.
Ald. Bryon Eagon, who introduced the motion to place the item on file without prejudice (killing it), said he did not want to create an exemption for the ISO before the city comes up with a more comprehensive policy that would relate to all groups.
If the ISO can sell its paper, why can't "the Democratic Party sell Obama books and heaven forbid, the Republican Party sell Sarah Palin books," Eagon quipped. Or the "Snickers Party from selling Snickers bars," he continued.
Eagon's motion passed 12-8. Voting aye were Alds. Bruer, Compton, Clausius, Clear, Schumacher, Maniaci, Eagon, Palm, Cnare, Sanborn, Pham-Rammele and Skidmore. Voting nay were Alds. Rhodes-Conway, Verveer, Bidar-Sielaff, Schmidt, King, Kerr, Rummel and Solomon.
Note: With a couple exceptions, the vote break-down resembles the division in the Council over the election of its president three months ago.