Arfan Mithu's customers, after a hard day's work, just want a cold one.
"That's the only pleasure they have in life," says Mithu, who works at Madison Bazaar, a liquor store on Park Street. "They don't go to bars. Their only pleasure is to drink a half pint in the privacy of their home."
But last week, the Madison Common Council passed several new restrictions on the liquor licenses of Madison Bazaar and West Badger Liquor. Both stores, owned by brothers Shariff and Nadeem Syed, can no longer sell single cans of beer or fermented malt beverages. The stores are also forbidden to sell 40-ounce bottles of beer, or bottles of liquor smaller than 750 milliliters.
Mithu says the restrictions are unfair. "All the people who come in here are pretty decent," he says. "There's never, ever a problem. No fights. I don't think they [city officials] have the right to do it."
Madison's alcohol policy coordinator, Joel Plant, says the city is just looking out for South Park Street. "If we can reduce the availability of cheap booze, we can start to have an effect on the problems cropping up."
But store owner Shariff Syed thinks the corridor is being targeted because its residents are poor and minorities.
"I understand it's a sensitive neighborhood," he says. "But you're singling out people who don't make much money. How many people can afford a 750 mL bottle of alcohol? That's $11 or $12."
Syed notes that the city has not put restrictions on the beer license of the Shell gas station, less than a mile down the road from his Park Street store. Nor has it done so for Zimmer's Liquor, on West Beltline Highway, near Allied Drive. Both serve troubled neighborhoods.
"Is that fair?" he asks. "If every single store in the city has to stop selling 750 mL, I'll accept that."
Ald. Tim Bruer, who represents the south side, says the Alcohol License Review Committee is considering "universal" regulations that will eventually apply to all stores in Madison. But he admits that the Park Street corridor is being targeted now.
"This area for the last 15 years has been dealing with a high-density group of alcoholics," he says. "They often place themselves in danger by walking out on Park Street, intoxicated."
Bruer denies that the Syeds' stores are being singled out. The Common Council put similar restrictions on the Park Street Mobil gas station. Says Bruer, "We have problems associated with cheap alcohol and with those who market their product to that sector of the community, at the expense of the neighborhood."
Paying the price
The UW System is so eager to offer domestic partner benefits it may be willing to pay for the benefits itself. Sources say officials have privately told legislators that the System could, if necessary, pay the annual $550,000 cost.
That would be welcome news to the UW-Madison, which has lost several prominent researchers for want of these benefits. Last year, Rob Carpick, an associate professor of physics and nanotechnology, left for the University of Pennsylvania, because that school offered benefits. In 2003, the university's sociology department lost Shelley Correll and Larry Wu, both of whom cited the lack of benefits as a primary reason for leaving.
The loss of these three faculty members has cost the UW an estimated $1.7 million a year in grants - more than enough to cover the cost of domestic partner benefits. "If domestic partner benefits were to be allowed," says UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas, "we would be interested in considering all options for funding them."
Senate Democrats have included a provision in the budget extending domestic partner benefits to all state workers, including UW employees. Another provision would let municipalities, including Madison, offer the same coverage through the state health insurance system.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) says Assembly Republicans are unlikely to support the changes, which are backed by Gov. Jim Doyle.
"The governor is very insistent that he wants this to move ahead," says Pocan. "We need to make sure that all employees are treated fairly and are not handicapped by politics wrapped in a benefits package."
Send us your drunks
Since April 1, Madison police have responded to 114 calls for service at downtown's Law Park, 30 of them for alcohol-related incidents. This statistic, a significant increase, prompted the Common Council last week to ban booze in the park along John Nolen Drive. But Madison police are still questioning why there seem to be more transients with alcohol issues in Madison.
"We need to start looking into why it's happening," says Madison Police Chief Noble Wray.
One theory is that Tellurian's detox center in Madison is accepting more people from other counties, who then stay in the city once released. "We can't draw the correlation yet," says Wray. "The concern is, if someone is coming from outside the county and then they don't have transportation to get back, where do they go?"
Tellurian's detox center has about 30 beds. It contracts with Dane County to provide 20-25 beds to county residents. The other beds are leased to neighboring counties. Dane County also sells some of its space - one or two beds as needed - to Rock County for $200,000 a year.
Melody Music-Twilla, vice president of clinical services at Tellurian, says none of the out-of-county residents stay in Madison once they're released from detox.
"It's an absolute must that they return to their own county," she says, adding that the center arranges for transportation, whether private or through law enforcement. "We certify their transportation."
But Wray says just because the center offers transportation doesn't mean people use it: "If they decide they don't want to go back to Rock County, then I don't think you can force them. Once they're released, unless there's some other crime-related issue, there's nothing we can do."
An insult to poll workers?
Madison citizen Rosemary Lee is a familiar figure around city hall, regularly attending city council meetings. And she's been a poll worker for a couple of years. As she sees it, Ald. Zach Brandon's proposed ordinance to bar political operatives from working in the City Clerk's Office or at the polls will have a devastating effect on the city's election process.
"It would disenfranchise about 500 poll workers," says Lee, adding the workers see Brandon's ordinance as an attack on their credibility. "People have said they won't come back, because they're so insulted. It besmirches their integrity."
The Madison Election Advisory Committee is holding a special meeting on Thursday, June 28, to consider the ordinance. Brandon says he's willing to consider amendments to address any potential problems in the bill. But he's undecided on whether to exempt poll workers from the restrictions. During last spring's election, he notes, former Ald. Paul Van Rooy worked at the polls, even though he was treasurer for Michael Schumacher, who eventually won his seat.
"It was obviously a concern," says Brandon. "Is there a check and balance at the poll worker level? I'm not convinced there is."