If you don't remember your likker license history....

Dateline: Fri 15 Sep 2006

You are doomed to repeat it.

In that context, here's some absolutely fascinating commentary and a history lesson from my buddy Art Harris -- that's the dapper and always eloquent Welton W. Harris, who covered city government for years for the late Indianapolis News.

Harris, like all good reporters, has been following closely the story of the Polin Park/bar deal in the Julia Carson Government Center. After Star columnist Matt Tully finally broke a sweat with his Wednesday column, naming names of the wealthy investors in a private club in a public setting, Harris got his licks in.

"Here is further proof why incidents like this slip thru the cracks - no historical memory banks left," he said, referring to the fact that the Star-lite is now a flat-liner when it comes to reportorial brain trust. "Can you imagine Joe Gelarden (veteran reporter, also long gone) letting something like this get by?

"Anyway - if Tully went far enough back, (Center Township Trustee Carl) Drummer and (attorney Lacy) Johnson both worked for (Rep. Julia) Carson when she was Center Twnp Trustee - run the clips stupid. Johnson is now an atty with Ice Miller."

Harris continues: "I spent years covering the Marion County Liquor Board and the only time I can recall of a liquor license for a public building was when the poobahs wanted one for an exclusive club in the Market Square Arena - which they now have in Conseco Fieldhouse (how times change). We argued at the time that because Market Square was built with tax dollars, a private club was a no no and it went away."

In a second email, Harris adds deeper perspective and that all-important history lesson:

"For so many years the Repubs had an iron fist on who got a license when L. Keith Bulen ruled. Before that it was the Alex Clark machine, which ruled who got what on Indiana Avenue.

"When Unigov became law in 1970 and the old city limits were expanded to the county line, the Bulen machine figured that meant 19 more package liquor stores.The law was one package store license for every 5,000 residents, or maybe it was 3,000.

"Bulen & Friends teamed with Jimmy James (husband of Muffy) and the Bulen gang had a majority of the licenses. To keep the Demies happy, Bulen gave them 3 or 4, but I believe Bulen & Friends controlled 13 or 14 package store licenses.

"They put the licenses in names of secretaries and bookkeepers etc. in an attempt to disguise the true owners. They transferred the licenses two or three times before James' name ever appeared and they became the 21st Amendment package stores. James had the package store licenses in the burbs and Howard ``Buzz'' Foltz got a bunch in the inner city, can't remember the chain name.

"I did a few stories about the connections, but nothing happened. Some years later The Star did a big expose on Bulen & Friends liquor licenses which led to federal indictments, that were later dismissed, but subsequently was the downfall of the Bulen machine."

Harris also takes note of the fact that one can't have a liquor license in so many feet of a residential district. That may or not apply here, he adds.

"In a way, if that area is predominately black, and residents don't complain, let them have what they want," he says.

His conclusion: "Anyway, maybe it's just time the blacks get their piece of the pie - of course if it meets zoning and is operated well and doesn't become a cesspool.

"At least they didn't hide the names of investors like the Repubs did. But, I wonder how many times Julia remonstrated against liquor licenses held by whites in the hood. It all depends on whose ox is being gored."

Beautifully reported.

Comments? ruth@ruthholladay.com

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