Get ready for a political battle that is going to make the Trinity and hotel votes look like preschool tea parties.

We should know next month whether we’ll vote later this year on two issues: to allow retail wine and beer sales throughout Dallas, and to allow all restaurants to sell alcohol without private club restrictions.

This is truly a historic moment in city history. Most of Dallas has been dry in some form since Prohibition ended in 1933, and a wet vote in November would change its social, cultural and economic fabric. In this, it’s probably the largest wet-dry vote in state history, and is one of the largest in recent U.S. history. And everyone has an opinion, which we’ve already seen on our Back Talk blog.

I’ve even been accused of being a shill for the dry side, which is pretty funny considering that I’m a wine writer in one of my other lives. In fact, I think most dry laws are outdated and should be abolished, and have written this in many places over the past 15 years. But this election, as is usual when it comes to politics in Dallas, is about more than it seems.

Or, as SMU marketing professor Daniel Howard put it: “This is not just about voting on alcohol sales. This is about revenue generation. When economic times are tough, people tend to look at vices like lotteries and alcohol, and they don’t see the vices. They see the revenue it will bring in.”

Consider the following:

• Wet proponents are already talking about how retail beer and wine sales will boost city coffers. Far North Dallas councilman Ron Natinsky, who supports the proposals, says going wet could add $20 million a year to city sales tax revenue — 10 percent of what we currently take in. It’s not so much that this number is difficult to accept, which it is, but that it points to how desperate city leaders are to fix the budget. Dallas is going to allow booze because we’re broke? I never, ever thought I’d hear that one.

• You’ll also hear a lot about how going wet will spur economic growth. Natinsky, in fact, told me that adding retail sales may lure retail giant Costco to the dry parts of Dallas. It won’t open a store here now, he says, because it can’t sell beer and wine (and Costco is the largest wine retailer in the United States). This begs the question of why Costco hasn’t opened a store in the wet parts of town, but maybe Natinsky knows something I don’t.

• And this is about zoning, which is something not a lot of people will want to talk about. If we go wet, anyone who qualifies for a state-authorized liquor license can open a retail beer and wine store anywhere they want (subject to city zoning requirements like distances from schools and churches). This is not necessarily a problem in wet areas like ours, but it presents a host of them in the dry parts of town, and especially south of the Trinity. Southern Dallas residents have been fighting alcohol retailers for decades, and this will not make their job any easier. In addition, any anti-alcohol zoning that the city council adds to protect the no-longer-dry-areas will almost certainly be challenged in court. That information, by the way, comes from an attorney who files those sorts of suits.

• Finally, and most importantly, this is about how the city south of the Trinity may lose control of its destiny. The wet-dry election, if it follows the pattern of most recent municipal elections, will be decided by mostly Anglo and mostly wealthier voters here, in Preston Hollow and in Far North Dallas. That could raise all sorts of racial issues — something that city leaders have been working not to raise. I’m no fan of Mayor Park Cities, but he has tried make Southern Dallas feel like it’s part of the city. A wet victory could almost immediately undo any success he has had.

Hopefully, those are the issues we’ll talk about during the campaign. Unfortunately, if past performance is any indication of future performance, we’ll end up with mud-slinging nastiness — and we’ll make a decision not based on what’s best for the city, but what’s best for the mud slingers.


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