Despite pleas from restaurant owners, Des Plaines to enforce indoor dining ban

Despite pleas from local restaurateurs, Des Plaines will enforce restrictions on indoor restaurant and bar service ordered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker because of escalating COVID-19 cases in the region.

The city council's split decision came after an occasionally heated discussion during its meeting Monday night. Officials met virtually because of the pandemic, but several restaurant owners and supporters spoke on camera from the council chamber against the restrictions.

"It is not fair," said Randy Sutter, co-owner of the Cafe La Cave restaurant and banquet hall. "We are fighting for our lives right here."

Pritzker ordered the indoor dining ban and other restrictions late last month to slow surging COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions.

Officials in Arlington Heights, Mundelein, Naperville and Elmhurst have protested the ban, and mayors in Libertyville and Itasca said they won't enforce it.

On Monday, 5th Ward Ald. Carla Brookman, who chairs a committee that oversees legal and licensing issues, revealed that officials gave city police and staff members direction to enforce Pritzker's order during a recent closed-door discussion.

Brookman urged the council to reverse course. She raised doubts about the accuracy of COVID-19 tests, citing recent critical tweets by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Brookman also accused Pritzker of discriminating against restaurants and bars by restricting activity at those businesses and not others.

"Where is the fact-based evidence that restaurants and bars are major contributors (to the pandemic)?" she asked.

In fact, state health officials have said studies show indoor drinking and dining pose a higher risk of spreading the respiratory disease than other activities.

Brookman said another protracted local business shutdown will hurt the city budget and lead to layoffs and service cuts. She also railed that "our freedoms are being taken away from us in the name of safety."

Brookman had three allies on the council: Ald. Mark Lysakowski of the 1st Ward, Ald. Artur Zadrozny of the 4th Ward and Ald. Malcolm Chester of the 6th Ward.

Opposing them were Ald. Colt Moylan of the 2nd Ward, Ald. Denise Rodd of the 3rd Ward, Ald. Don Smith of the 7th Ward, Ald. Andrew Goczkowski of the 8th Ward and Mayor Matthew Bogusz.

Goczkowski noted that none of the council members are epidemiologists and said officials and the public should listen to health experts.

Moylan said he was "appalled" by Brookman's comments about the reliability of COVID testing. Cases are on the rise, he said, and the community's health and safety is the council's top priority.

In response, Brookman said if people choose to visit restaurants or bars, no one "puts a gun in their backs."

After more debate, audience members were allowed to speak. All opposed the restrictions.

Christine Simms of the Des Plaines-based Greek American Restaurant Cooperative said there's no proof tying COVID cases to restaurants - even though there is - and she urged officials not to enforce Pritzker's order.

Cafe La Cave's Sutter criticized people who disagree with his stance on listening to doctors.

"You have just as much a chance of catching COVID right here (as) you do in a restaurant," Sutter said. "You're going to disagree with that because you're listening to this doctor and that doctor."

City Manager Michael Bartholomew said the restrictions will be enforced only if complaints are filed. Police won't go looking for restaurants or bars serving customers indoors.

Violators would receive two warnings and then face fines of $250, $500 or $750 for additional infractions, officials said. If the infractions continue, revocation of the liquor license is possible.

Bogusz acknowledged that restaurateurs are upset, scared and angry. But he also said he has "absolutely no qualms" about revoking the liquor license of a business that repeatedly violates the order.

When the council eventually voted, members were tied 4-4. Bogusz broke the tie in favor of enforcing the order.

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Matthew Bogusz, Des Plaines mayor
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