On a crisp autumn afternoon, Michelle Wu stood on a sidewalk in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. She looked around at the small businesses that served the community: a tattoo parlor, a nail salon, a dentist office, a barber shop, and a travel agency. But one storefront on this block particularly excited her: a small Ethiopian restaurant called Ethiopian Cafe. This unassuming restaurant held a special place in Wu’s heart, because it was one of the first restaurants to benefit from one of Wu’s first initiatives as City Councilor: introducing Bring Your Own Bottle (“BYOB”) permits in Boston. Unfortunately, Ethiopian Cafe was also one of only a few restaurants with a BYOB permit. It had been nearly two years since restaurants could apply for permission to allow patrons to bring wine and beer into their establishments, yet, to Wu’s surprise, fewer than ten restaurants out of approximately 200 eligible establishments had applied for permits. As of September 2018, only three BYOB restaurants operated in Boston. Wu wanted to increase the program’s impact. “What,” she wondered, “was needed to make the program more popular?”
The case goes on to describe liquor licensing laws (and their historical origins) in Massachusetts and the political climate and appetite for considering changes to the licensing process. Wu and City Councilor Ayanna Pressley found themselves working from opposite sides of the same problem as Pressley pushed for broad liquor license reform while Wu sought to carve out a highly-specific exception to the law that would allow restaurant owners in disadvantaged communities to obtain a BYOB permit. Wu’s ordinance to grant the Boston Licensing Board the authority to promulgate BYOB regulations passed in February 2015; although Pressley said the ordinance was an important step, she was “keeping [her] eye on the ultimate prize—fighting for Boston to have full local control of the liquor licensing process.” In light of the subsequently low uptake of BYOB permits, Wu comes to believe that the problem rests with inadequate awareness of the program among restaurant owners and contemplates her next steps.
The case is designed to facilitate a live, in-class discussion to help students understand the challenges and opportunities of political leadership. The case asks students to consider the strategic leadership challenge faced by the protagonist: considering the legal structure of liquor licensing within Boston, should she pursue a full-scale re-examination of the city’s liquor licensing or “settle” for the passage of a limited but doable BYOB program. Stu-dents must also consider the value of incremental progress when working to foment change; true leadership is recognizing the value in the aphorism, “the best is the enemy of the good.”
Legislation and Regulation, City Government, Political Leadership
Geographic: Boston, Massachusetts
Event Year Begin: 2018
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