This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 20, 2013 - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is once again wading into East St. Louis' local politics, sounding alarm over a proposal to create an entertainment district featuring all-night clubs.
Durbin, D-Illinois, has clashed with East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks in the past couple of years over the closing times of clubs and liquor stores in the Metro East muncipality.
Durbin – an East St. Louis native – held a press conference last April calling for closing clubs and liquor stores at 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.
Keeping the establishments open at all hours, he said at the time, was a reason crime in the city is so high. In an open letter to Durbin, Parks contended the “city is not looking to abolish one of the key industries of the East St. Louis economy.”
East St. Louis' city council last June overrode Parks’ veto of a measure closing clubs earlier. But the Belleville News-Democrat reported this week that Parks proposed creating an all-night entertainment district. The idea, the paper reported, was to keep nightclubs in one geographic area so the environment could be controlled.
Parks was quoted by the paper stating "in the '80's, East St. Louis was known as East Boogie."
That idea caught the attention of Durbin, who along with St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly strongly condemned the proposal in a letter released to reporters. The two public officials urged Parks to withdraw the proposal – or for city council members to vote it down.
“Progress has been made in recent months in rebuilding public safety institutions in East St. Louis and surrounding communities, but there is a long way to go,” Durbin and Kelly wrote. “That’s why it is shocking and disappointing that you are now proposing to abandon existing closing hours for nightclubs in the city. Allowing these nightclubs to stay open all night will increase the risk of violence and killings. The cost of this violent crime to East St. Louis’ families far exceeds any economic benefit that extended club hours might bring.”
The pair of public officials noted that “we have long urged federal and state law enforcement agencies to step up to help combat violent crime in East St. Louis, and they have devoted significant resources to this effort.”
“We do not want their contributions to be undermined by ill-conceived proposals to keep nightclubs open at all hours,” Durbin and Kelly wrote. “These federal and state resources are stretched thin as it is. Your own police department’s resources are stretched thin.”
"We have spoken with many residents of East St. Louis who live in daily fear of violent crime, and we have committed that we will do all we can to help reduce this crime," the two added. "It is because of that commitment that we express our strong opposition to your proposal to abandon reasonable nightclub closing hours."
A public hearing on the matter is set 6 p.m. next Wednesday.