By Kristen Mack and John Byrne
3:40 PM CST, January 18, 2012
Mayor Rahm Emanuel today gave a thumbs-up to the return of the South Side Irish Parade despite concerns some have about security and alcohol.
“That parade is a recognition to Irish Americans who call Chicago home,” Emanuel said after today's City Council meeting. “It is my hope that after a few years of hitting the pause button, people remember a way to celebrate their heritage, celebrate and be proud of it in a way that’s also respectful of the community and the neighborhood.”
“It’s been a two-year pause, we’ll give them a chance to do that.”
City officials have agreed to issue a permit for the March parade despite lingering concerns about security that led organizers to shut down in 2009 after widespread drunken fighting and assaults on police officers.
The South Side Irish Parade Committee hopes to return the Beverly neighborhood event to its family-oriented roots while continuing to draw the massive crowds that, after the parade was launched in 1979, became a bonanza for local taverns and other Southwest Side businesses.
Organizers of the March 11 event are considering setting up checkpoints manned by private security guards, making the parade route along Western Avenue shorter and cracking down more forcefully on outdoor drinking in an effort to quell unruly behavior in nearby parks and residential streets, parade committee chairman Joseph Connelly said Saturday.
The group also hopes to control the presence of chartered buses, which in the parade's final years became rolling bacchanals for revelers from bars in Lincoln Park and college campuses throughout the Chicago area. At the least, Connelly said, those buses would be corralled in designated parking lots.
Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th, who was on the parade committee for 13 years but voted to end the event after a March 2009 parade debacle that triggered 54 arrests, believes the initial security plans for this next event were inadequate.
The alderman said the city spent $300,000 three years ago on police, traffic aides and services for setup and cleanup and questioned whether the city would spend as much this year when it’s closing mental health clinics, shortening library hours and laying off employees.
“The people that enjoyed the parade are overwhelmed by the people that are there just to make havoc,” O’Shea said, adding that 12 police officers were injured three years ago. He said he would nevertheless “do everything I can to work with the Chicago Police Department, to work with the other city departments, to try to make my neighborhood safe that day.”
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