Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Fueling a frustration

News tidbits can often provide a truer account of the day’s issues than full-blown stories. So it was with three nuggets of recent days. All three dealt with restaurants and politics, but that’s about the extent of the connection—until you consider what might connect the dots.

The first point is a paragraph in a Jan. 1 New York Times story about the efforts of groups with a political agenda to influence the presidential campaign in not-so-subtle yet completely legal ways. In what could be called soft lobbying, the organizations fund their own advertising campaigns for a favored candidate, a practice protected by the courts’ current interpretation of free-speech rights. For instance, the Service Employees International Union, a new-age group hoping to organize the restaurant business, spent more than $1.5 million to run radio spots in Iowa for John Edwards, a candidate who boasts that he refuses contributions from political action committees.

The second development was a page-one story in this morning’s Times about the unfairness of Iowa’s quirky caucus system. Because the archaic set-up leaves no room for the equivalent of an absentee ballot, you have to attend one of the evening caucuses to influence the statewide results. Yet how many restaurants are going to let their staff run off for a political forum during the dinner rush? The story cited several specific examples of foodservice employees being thwarted in their desires to participate. Presumably the same timing problems keep restaurant owners and operators out of the caucuses as well. The system clearly seems to discriminate against places with a vibrant dinner business.

And the last tidbit of the three: A restaurateur in Edmond, Okla., is so frustrated with the political process in his home town that he’s refusing to serve certain officials, as he proudly declares in a sign posted out front, the Associated Press reported today. The two members of the Edmond Planning Commission, along with the board’s attorney, are cited by name as being unwelcome at Falcone’s Pizzeria and Deli. Actually, the language is a little stronger than that: The trio is instructed to stay off the property, according to the report.

The three reportedly led opposition to the red, green and white awning that proprietor Danny Falcone wanted to erect above his new restaurant to trumpet its Italian orientation. The Planning Commission reportedly refused to permit the awning, and the city council apparently followed its lead.

Restaurateurs often voice frustration with the political process, which many describe as an alien world where common sense seems to be suspended. With an adversarial union spending $1.5 million in just one state to push a candidate, despite lobbying limits and the beneficiary’s declaration he’d refuse tainted financing, and the system in that very state working against restaurateurs, is it any wonder the industry may feel a little desperate?

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