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Five Reasons Berea’s Alcohol Initiative Passed

09.30.15 09:45 AM – Andy McDonald
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In the wake of Tuesday’s wet/dry election in Berea, those opposed to alcohol sales might be inclined to accept an easy explanation for the success of pro-alcohol forces. They could be inclined, for example, to believe that the city is simply going to Hell. In fact, other factors may have been at work in the successful effort to legalize alcohol sales.

1. The Fight Over the Fairness Ordinance Had Unintended Consequences

Berea evangelicals may have won the battle against the Fairness Ordinance, but in doing so, they may have lost the war against alcohol. In waging the fairness fight in 2014, they perhaps came off as doctrinaire in trying to defend their own religious principles. So by the time the alcohol fight came around, their credibility was nearly spent. When ads from local churches appeared in newspapers, a majority of voters were tuned out to their message.

2.The Pro-Alcohol Movement Had a Face

The fact that Steve Connelly lent his name to the cause made all the difference. He used his political capital to put forth positive arguments for why alcohol should be sold in local restaurants. The opposition, meanwhile, was mostly faceless this time out, running a low key campaign with ads running in the paper sponsored by “concerned citizens for Berea.” Whether opponents like it or not, most voters will trust a person they know more than a faceless, nebulous association of “concerned citizens.”

3. Payback Against Connelly Didn’t Work

As I observed interactions at the polls, some seemed to regard Tuesday’s special alcohol election as payback against Steve Connelly. Frustrated by the continued funding of the Berea Human Rights Commission, the successful effort to allow alcohol sales at Boone Tavern, and Connelly’s narrow re-election victory in 2014, some voters appeared to be there simply to stick it to the mayor. In some quarters, he is perceived to be too liberal. But it turns out a political movement fueled on bile can only get so far.

4. This Was a Legacy Issue for the Mayor

Connelly has never been one to be satisfied playing “small ball.” He swings for the fence by pursuing projects that will have profound long-term consequences, including annexing large swaths of land into northern Berea, acquiring Berea Municipal Utilities, building a new reservoir, expanding the industrial park, tackling a politically dicey Fairness Ordinance, and now driving through the sale of alcohol in restaurants. Tuesday’s win will be one of Steve Connelly’s legacies, because it secures a big piece of Berea’s economic development puzzle. As far as getting it done during his tenure as mayor, Connelly probably figured securing alcohol sales would be now or never.

5. Population Growth Finally Outpaced Evangelicals

Alcohol opponents argued that Berea should retain its unique identity. But that identity was already in transition as the population swelled to an estimated 14,000 people, many of whom moved to Berea from Richmond or Lexington. Add to that the fact that attitudes about alcohol were changing in communities that surround Berea, and it was really only a matter of time before alcohol forces won. With that in mind, it’s actually pretty impressive that anti-alcohol forces were able to keep the election as close as they did.

So is it over for anti-alcohol forces? It shouldn’t be. If the history of other Kentucky cities is any indication, a measure to make Berea totally wet – with bars and liquor stores – will be coming around within the next eight years.
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