THE WASHINGTON STATE LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD heard from Oscar and Barbara McCoy again last week, a year after the three-member Liquor Control Board overruled a state judge and took away the McCoys' liquor license.

The hearing was held on the fifth floor of one of the ugliest buildings ever designed. Sharing the role of judge were the board's newly appointed chair, Eugene Prince, a wheat farmer; Capitol Hill's own Charlie Brydon, an insurance man; and Jesse Farias, a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War.

David Osgood, attorney for the McCoys, addressed the board first. Two years ago Osgood was a struggling young lawyer, working out of his apartment like a character in a bad John Grisham novel. Since then he has carved a niche for himself as a vigilant and highly quotable defender of the businesses being crushed by Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran. Osgood describes himself as a "good old-fashioned liberal," but his campaign against Sidran's civic cleansing has brought him into a strange political coalition, which includes African American business leaders, Republican insiders, and local Libertarians, who hold their monthly "supper club" meetings at Oscar's.

Osgood began by introducing the McCoys. Barbara McCoy was born in Germany in 1943, and grew up in Cold War Berlin. She met then-Sergeant Oscar McCoy in 1961, when he was at the beginning of what would a 27-year Army career, which included two tours in Vietnam.

The McCoys opened Oscar's II at 21st and East Madison in 1985, just before the crack epidemic hit Seattle. They worked with the Seattle Police Department for years to keep the drug problem under control, testifying in court to put away dealers, even allowing Drug Enforcement Agency officers into their bar in order to observe the drug trade outside. Two foot-patrol cops regularly entered Oscar's to tell them which customers to banish.

In 1994 the police pulled out their foot patrol, claiming they didn't have the resources to "baby-sit" businesses in trouble areas. Instead the police and Sidran moved to shut the business down. The beat cops were replaced by undercover narcotics agents and "confidential informants"--people arrested on drug charges who are trying to work off their sentences by buying drugs with police department money.

The confidential informant used at Oscar's was nicknamed "Bright Eyes"; she had been supporting herself (and her drug habit) with confidential informant work for nine years. Bright Eyes' list of criminal convictions includes cocaine possession, prostitution, domestic violence, shoplifting, and petty theft. The administrative law judge who recommended dropping the case against the McCoys last year (before being overruled by the Liquor Board) found that Bright Eyes, the SPD's star witness, was "not a credible person."

The majority of the purchases Bright Eyes made in Oscar's were from a dealer named "Sheila Red." It's still unclear whether Sheila Red was also a police informant; this is presumably one of several issues under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The police never arrested any of the drug dealers in Oscar's, and they never told the McCoys who the dealers were; eventually, the police file on Oscar's grew thick enough for the city to file for abatement.

In a shrewd legal maneuver intended to foil Osgood's appeal, Sidran dropped the abatement case last month. But after more than a year of legal battling, the McCoys are still hanging by a thread--and if they don't get their liquor license back, their business is doomed.

Osgood told the board, "If you are going to accept the word of the police at face value, you will be furthering a grievous wrong.

"State Assistant Attorney General Kim Cox allowed, "Yes, [the McCoys] are interesting and likable," but said they didn't take the necessary precautions to prevent drug dealing in their club. Cox claimed that the McCoys contributed to the endangerment of their clientele and the neighborhood.

Cox said of Bright Eyes: "Every time she went in she was patted down, and every time she came out she was patted down. Every time she came out she was carrying drugs. The turnaround was in minutes. She was successful every time."

As far as Cox was concerned, the McCoys have gotten what they deserve. "The licensees are not the victims here," she said. "They chose to operate a business that is heavily regulated. They chose to operate in the neighborhood. These choices come with responsibilities.... They have refused to accept responsibility for changes in the neighborhood."

Eddie Rye of the National Black Chamber of Commerce hit the roof when he heard the assistant attorney general's remark about how the McCoys "chose" to do business in the neighborhood. During the period of public testimony following the hearing, Rye told the board, "The Seattle Police Department and the City Attorney are carrying out an assault on legitimate black businesses in the city of Seattle, and it's really too bad that they are being aided by the Liquor Board."

It would have made for a nice clean story if the supporters who drove down to Olympia to testify on behalf of the McCoys had marched directly to the steps of the Capitol, demonstrated against injustice and economic apartheid, and dramatically filed their initiatives to dismantle the Liquor Board. But that didn't happen.

It wouldn't have been the smartest move for the McCoys to rant publicly against the state agency that took away their livelihood, especially since several board members hinted that they had appreciated hearing from and meeting the McCoys.

The Libertarians, on the other hand, have little to lose. With just 1,028 members state-wide and 31,379 nationally, the Libertarian Party could use a popular campaign, and the idea of privatizing liquor sales could sell well among voters tired of the state's monopoly of the liquor business--the archaic rules, the high prices and poor selection, the state-run East-Berlin-style liquor stores. What better agency to cut down to size?

While the Libertarians got the ball rolling by filing initiatives to privatize the liquor business, they didn't exactly kick off their campaign with cheering mobs of supporters. A pre-rally column by The Seattle Times' Michelle Malkin (who is married to the former chair of the West King County Libertarians) included a phone number for supporters to call--but Rachel Hawkridge, the organizer of Citizens for Free-Market Liquor, neglected to hook up her new answering machine.

Turnout at the rally was pitiful: Hawkridge, a few of her Libertarian friends, State Representative Kathy Lambert (R-Redmond), and "Big Al" Woodridge, a gun lobbyist once profiled in Soldier of Fortune magazine (see adjoining news article) who has been throwing his weight around Olympia for years.

Lambert described herself as one of "about 20 people down here [in Olympia] who actually believes in the Constitution." She said of the anti-Liquor Board initiatives, " I just don't think it's a role and function of government to be selling alcohol."

Woodbridge added, "State-sponsored alcoholism only works in Russia."

The free-market liquor crusaders have a long road ahead of them: they need about 200,000 signatures to get their initiatives on the ballot this fall. Barring intervention from the liquor lobby, their chances seem slim.

As for the McCoys, they expect to hear from the Liquor Board soon. Sidran's abatement case against their business is history--for now. One good ruling from the board and they could go back to running their business--a distinctly African American establishment in the midst of a neighborhood that grows whiter with each new real estate transaction.

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