Controversial city festivals chief resigns

May 13, 2011

Megan McDonald, the controversial head of the patronage-plagued Mayor’s Office of Special Events, resigned on Thursday, a few days after Michelle Boone was named as the next head of the recently merged Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

This blog’s reporting on the politcally connected McDonald’s problematic handling of the push to privatize the big city music festivals and her power struggle with cultural doyenne Lois Weisberg prompted this memorable rant from her in response last December.

Self-described “arts crusader” Boone has not yet tipped her hand about her plans for Taste of Chicago, the blues and jazz festivals, and the other big musical celebrations. But soon-to-be Mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed open to revisiting the idea of charging admission to the festivals in a long interview with TimeOut Chicago about the arts.

Do you feel the festivals could improve if there were paid attendance?

Well, we could always improve. This interview could improve, my answers could improve, everything can improve! Of course. Everything could improve. It’s been done for 20 years, there’s a great feeling of tradition to it—but that doesn’t mean it’s stuck. You gotta think: How are we gonna do this different this year? How are we gonna make this better? That’s what my job is.

The TimeOut interview by Jake Malooley also is notable for its attempt to pin the new mayor down on how he will handle dealings with Lollapalooza. The giant musical Walmart on the Lake is co-owned by William Morris Endeavor, the omnipotent Hollywood talent agency run by Rahm’s brother Ari, and employees at the firm made significant contributions to Rahm’s mayoral campaign.

Your brother, Ari, is the CEO of William Morris Endeavor agency, which co-owns Lollapalooza. You’ve said that you’ll recuse yourself from any city dealings with Lolla.

Yeah, anything.

Specifically, how will you do that?

I’ll ask the City Council. If there’s anything that has to be negotiated, I’ll just step away and the City Council will designate someone to take over the negotiations. That said, anything Ari is involved in, from an investment standpoint or whatever—first of all, I’d like to screw him over. He’s my younger brother. [Laughs] I hated him growing up. We shared a room our whole childhood. So if I can screw him over, I can’t wait. That said, I will ask the City Council or others to set up an independent person, because if we have to negotiate stuff, I don’t want any sense that he or the firm he’s on got anything special. And that won’t happen. It will be done in full daylight so everyone can see it.

TimeOut did not press to confirm that the new mayor also will recuse himself from dealings with Ticketmaster/Live Nation—Ari sits on the mega-corporation’s board of directors, its two top executives also donated to Rahm’s campaign, and it is eyeing a long-term deal with the city to make permanent its concert venue on Northerly Island. Nor was the next mayor asked if he’s open to the Park District and/or the City Council reopening or reexamining the city’s tax-free sweetheart deal with Lollapalooza—which would seem like a very good move at a time when he’s asked for $75 million in cuts from all city departments.

How many city service jobs could be saved if Lollapalooza paid the same amusement tax any other for-profit concert has to pay?

Nevertheless, the TimeOut interview is the best the mayor has done yet about the arts, and the publication is the first in the Chicago media to ask some of the thornier questions about how Emanuel will deal with some of the biggest and most powerful entities in the local music world.

Eariler reports in this blog about Rahm Emanuel and music and the arts:

Apr. 26: Chicago's Jam Productions to stage Emanuel's inaugural concert

Mar. 10: Rahm names arts & culture committee… with no voice for indie rock or hip-hop

Mar. 3: Rahm finally talks about music and the arts… sort of… on WXRT

Feb. 24: Dear Rahm: How to quell fears about your ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza and fix relations with the Chicago music scene

Feb. 21: Tomorrow we vote, but still no answers from Rahm on his cozy ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Feb. 8: Rahm Emanuel pledges hands off all dealings with Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Feb. 7: Rahm Emanuel: Pal$ with thuggish concert giants Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Earlier reports in this blog about privatizing the city festivals and the battle between the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the Department of Cultural Affairs:

Jan. 20: Lois Weisberg: "This is one of the worst things that ever has happened to the city."

Jan. 7: Privatizing Taste: What changed for Daley since November?

Jan. 6: "It's called Taste of Food. We're not in it for music."

Jan. 3: And the mystery bidder vying to privatize Chicago's music festivals is...

Dec. 27: Only one bidder wants to privatize Chicago’s music festivals… but who the heck is it?

Dec. 20: What's really going on at Cultural Affairs, and what happens to arts and music now?

Dec. 16: Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs is dismantled as 29 are laid off

Dec. 14: Nope, they won’t have to remain free… and answers to other questions about privatizing the city music festivals

Dec. 7: City festivals chief responds to this blog’s reporting on the push for privatization

Dec. 6: Are a political power struggle and a sweetheart deal fueling the city's push to privatize the summer music festivals?

Nov. 22: Psst! Hey, buddy: Wanna buy a city festival?