Emanuel to South Side Irish parade: March on!

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Jerome Kelly of Beverly shows off his South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade outfit, Sunday, March 9, 2008. “I’m the 13th out of 14 kids,” Kelly said, “And I’m the seventh son. I shouldn’t even be alive!” | Sun-Times Media

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he issued a permit for the South Side Irish parade – over the local alderman’s objections – because he’s convinced Beverly residents can celebrate their Irish heritage without the public drunkenness and arrests that killed the event in 2009.

“That parade is a recognition to Irish-Americans who call Chicago home. It is my hope that, after a few years of hitting the pause button, people will remember a way to celebrate their heritage and be proud of it in a way that’s also respectful of the community and the neighborhood. The two-year pause will give them a chance to do that,” the mayor said.

And what happens if the March return is marred by, what local Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) has called the “lawlessness” that marred previous events?

“I’m not gonna answer a hypothetical,” the mayor said. “I have all the confidence that they now know people are gonna watch that parade [and] that they will do it in a way that’s respectful to the neighbors and the neighborhood hosting it to celebrate a rich heritage and the diversity and the fabric of our city. They’ll celebrate it in a way that gives honor to Irish-Americans.”

O’Shea said he’ll try and make it work now that the city has granted the permit. But, he is not optimistic.

“We spent over $300,000 trying to make that parade a go in 2009 and it wasn’t,” O’Shea said, noting that over 642 police officers and 102 traffic management aides were detailed to the last parade, but they still couldn’t keep order.

“I’m about to close Beverly-Morgan Park mental health facility a half-mile up the parade route. I have a classroom at a school a few blocks from the parade route with 40 kids in it. We’re doing layoffs citywide. We’re [cutting back] library hours. If we’ve got $300,000 to put on a parade, I’d like to see it spent on some of those problems.”

The SouthtownStar reported last week that the Emanuel administration had issued a permit for the March 11 parade down Western Avenue – nearly three years after the event was scrapped because it had dissolved into a beer-drenched, arrest-filled nightmare for Beverly residents.

O’Shea was so adamantly opposed to the city’s decision, he wrote a letter to the mayor denouncing the South Side Irish Parade Committee’s security plan as “sorely lacking.” He also wrote a letter to his constituents saying he “firmly” disagrees with the parade’s return because of “overwhelming” public safety concerns.

Parade organizers insist that a private security firm funded, in part, by local merchants will work with Chicago Police to help manage a crowd that has topped 340,000, including busloads of college students from Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan.

There’s also talk of setting up an “exterior boundary” and Taste of Chicago-style security checkpoints, where coolers and bags will be searched for alcohol.

O’Shea said he would like to believe the parade committee’s promise of a “zero tolerance policy” and an “alcohol-free” event, but he doesn’t see how that’s possible. Not after 54 arrests in 2009, none of them Beverly residents, and 12 assaults on police officers.

“In their own security plan, there’s 42 streets that take you into the parade route, 42 entry points. When you have 340,000 people coming, do the math. I don’t think there’s enough police to [search and] confiscate every person walking in with open alcohol. I don’t think there’s enough police to protect the neighborhood,” he said.

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