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Mayor acts quickly, forcefully to close bars linked to gunfire

Late Saturday, Mayor Byron W. Brown completed a hat trick of nightspot closings within the last seven weeks, reinforcing his claim that the city will crack down on bars and clubs that threaten public safety by attracting gunfire to their immediate neighborhoods.

The mayor shut down the Impulse Lounge on Washington Street over the weekend, just as he earlier had closed the Habibi Sheesha Lounge on Elmwood Avenue following a Jan. 3 incident and Mango’z bar on Forest Avenue after a Dec. 6 shooting. All three closings came within days – even hours – of a violent incident.

The mayor, who has had a reputation for being cautious and measured on other issues, has acted swiftly and aggressively in all three cases, closing the three establishments without waiting for any formal action by either the Buffalo Common Council or the State Liquor Authority.

“I am conservative,” Brown acknowledged Monday. “I am cautious. I do like to do my homework. But in all of these cases, we did our homework, and we felt those operations were a danger to public safety, so we shut them down.”

The mayor was acting under the authority of Chapter 313 of the City Code, which allows either the mayor or police commissioner to immediately shut down any establishment where “the preservation of peace and good order” is not secured, Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball explained.

All three businesses remain closed, Brown said Monday. Ball added that the next step is up to the owners, to come forward with some type of plan, to show that they’ve turned the corner in satisfying public officials’ concerns.

“As long as there is a concern in the mayor’s or police commissioner’s mind that peace and good order are being compromised, then they will remain closed,” Ball said.

It’s hard to find any public officials who have taken issue with the mayor’s actions.

Council President Darius G. Pridgen said he fully supports such actions whenever these entertainment venues show a pattern of not being able to control violence and other unwelcome behavior in or near their businesses.

“I don’t want to see another City Grill occur in our city,” Pridgen said of the August 2010 shootings that left four people dead. “I don’t want to see another mass murder where we’re not controlling patterns of dangerous activity inside or outside these establishments.”

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, whose district includes the Habibi Sheesha Lounge, echoed Pridgen’s comments.

“I support the mayor wholeheartedly,” Rivera said. “The businesses need to work with their neighbors to develop trust.”

Rivera suggested that problems had escalated at the Habibi Sheesha Lounge before gunfire erupted late on the night of Jan. 3. Witnesses have said that a large group of teens left the lounge, went across the street to a gas station/mini-mart and caused extensive damage there, before the shots rang out.

“At that point, you have to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Rivera said. “It does affect quality of life, and the neighbors’ safety is paramount.”

The lounge, at Elmwood and Hodge avenues in the Elmwood Village, opened last spring, following a series of Council hearings and public meetings over neighbors’ concerns about potential after-hours parties, noise and rowdy behavior.

Before the Jan. 3 incident, Rivera said the lounge had violated some of its agreed-on terms and conditions, staying open past the allowable operating hours; opening a patio without the proper permits; and subleasing, or renting out, the building to other groups.

“The next thing we know there’s shooting at 11 o’clock at night,” Rivera said. “People in the Elmwood Village weren’t expecting that. For the Habibi Sheesha Lounge, that was the last straw.”

Brown closed the lounge two days later.

Amr Abbas, owner of the sheesha lounge, could not be reached for comment Monday, but he previously said the gunfire was not related to his business.

“They’re trying to shut me down over something I am not responsible for,” Abbas said earlier this month. “It was not inside the lounge. It was not even outside the lounge. The video clearly shows the shooter standing in front of the gas station.”

The mayor and other public officials have to walk a tricky tightrope here, keeping residents and neighboring businesses safe, without overreacting to one violent or rowdy act that may be out of a business’ control.

Pridgen, the Council president, cautioned against any knee-jerk closing of a business following a single incident.

“I don’t want to see a wholesale closing of businesses if there’s not a pattern of an immediate public-safety concern,” he said.

But Brown said there does not have to be a pattern, as long as the public’s safety is at risk.

“We will not tolerate incidents in businesses that affect public safety,” he said. “When there are those incidents, we will move swiftly to shut those businesses down.”

All three recent closings did follow some kind of history of complaints at the locations, city officials say.

Early Saturday morning, a 23-year-old man was shot not far from the Impulse Lounge, following a fight at the club, Buffalo police said. The man was treated and released from Erie County Medical Center.

Later that day, Brown ordered the club’s immediate shutdown, explaining later that he believes there were a number of previous incidents in or around Impulse.

“I saw the fight and the shooting that resulted as the last straw,” he said.

The other shooting occurred on the morning of Dec. 6, after an argument inside Mango’z, on Forest Avenue just west of Elmwood, spilled outside, leaving one person shot in the leg. Following an investigation by city officials that found other complaints requiring police action there, Brown ordered the immediate closing of the establishment within four days of the shooting.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com