And part of the problem is that, unconscionably, no one else in the Chicago media has been asking the questions.
As first reported here on Feb. 7, frontrunner Rahm Emanuel has received sizable campaign contributions from the two top execs at Ticketmaster/Live Nation, CEO Michael Rapino and executive chairman Irving Azoff. The candidate’s brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari, sits on the board of directors of the monopolistic concert giant, which even some of its own employees call “the Death Star.”
These contributions come at a time when Ticketmaster/Live Nation is looking to secure a long-term contract for a concert venue on Northerly Island, as well as any other advantage it can to “crush, kill and destroy” its independent rivals, including securing a mid-size venue the size of the Chicago or Uptown theaters.
Meanwhile, no fewer than 15 employees at Ari’s agency, William Morris Endeavor, have donated a total of $141,000 to his brother’s campaign. The company owns 50 percent of Lollapalooza and clearly wants to maintain its long-term, tax- and competition-free deal to remain in Grant Park, even in the face of an investigation by the state Attorney General into antitrust practices and mounting questions about whether the city is earning all that it should from the mega-concert.
The impact of these corporate concert giants on independent music in Chicago is a story of enormous importance to this city’s music community—though yes, of course, it only is one problem amid a mountain of significant others, including crime, education, the budget deficit, and the trend toward privatization. Yet it does speak in important ways to the character and policies of the man likely to be the next mayor.
1. As anyone who has reported on or closely followed the Emanuel campaign can attest, the candidate has been extremely reluctant to give specific answers to almost any question, speaking haltingly and in generalized platitudes. Yet via campaign spokesman and former White House staffer Ben LaBolt, he did make a specific pledge in response to this blog’s reporting on his ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza—“Given his brother’s position at WME [William Morris Endeavor] and on the board of Live Nation, Rahm would ask the City Council to appoint an outside negotiator to handle any negotiations with these companies so that there wasn’t even a question of favoritism”—which underscores that even he knows how bad these connections look.
Alas, the pledge is a hollow one—How, exactly, would that work? Where would such an independent “outside negotiator” be found? And does the city really want an administration that would have to turn over such important decisions to an outside entity?—and Emanuel still is ignoring this reporter’s follow-up questions on those connections: It has been 15 days and counting.
2. Big campaign contributions come with big expectations, and as noted above, Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza are entities that definitely want big things from the city of Chicago. Emanuel’s campaign donor records are lousy with money from lawyers at some of the city’s most high-powered firms, and here is candidate Miguel Del Valle on that issue on Saturday: “I talked to a friend who is a lawyer who’s with a law firm downtown who said to me, ‘Sorry Miguel, I’ve got to go with Rahm Emanuel because my firm said I got to go with Rahm Emanuel because if we don’t, we’re not going to get any business.” The same would appear to be true in the concert industry.
3. Let’s just pretend that in place of the name “Ticketmaster/Live Nation” in this story, we substituted “Chicago Parking Meters,” the company that won that controversial 75-year privatization bid, and for “Lollapalooza,” we subbed the name of a corporation vying to privatize Midway Airport. Can anyone imagine the Chicago media hesitating to probe Emanuel or any other candidate on such ties? No way.
Yet from my former employer the Chicago Sun-Times (which excels at truck scandals but doesn’t place the same priority on cultural controversies) to my current home WBEZ (which blew its opportunity to grill Emanuel on the issue on “848” last Tuesday), and from the vaunted Carol Marin (who, as Robert Feder pointed out, found time on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” candidates forum for “a little pop culture quiz” that stumped them all with a query about Watson and “Jeopardy”) to the Chicago Tribune, which published its virtual forum on the candidates and the arts on Sunday (“Arts and the city: Mayoral candidates weigh in”), none of the news outlets we rely upon have pushed hard for solid answers about the way the next mayor will treat the music community—a question of particular importance after years of downright hostility from the Daley administration.
In questioning the top four candidates on the arts, the Trib followed the same model that TimeOut Chicago adopted for its piece “Who is Chicago’s cultural candidate?,” which was posted way back on Nov. 10 and included all 15 of the mayoral contenders at the time. Rather than demanding one-on-one phone or in-person interviews with the big four—which the city’s biggest and most powerful newspaper ought to have been able to secure—the Trib merely submitted the same five questions in writing to each candidate, and then reprinted answers that could well have come from campaign staffers, publicists, or interns.
The closest the piece came to the issues at hand here was via this question: “Chicago’s sprawling music-club industry has long complained that it receives little promotion from City Hall (while smaller counterparts in Austin, Nashville and elsewhere are heavily promoted as tourism magnets in their hometowns). In addition, the clubs say they face continuous licensing hassles from the city. How should the city nurture and manage its music clubs?”
Emanuel’s answer: “From early blues to house music, innovative musical styles have thrived in Chicago’s clubs and gone on to reach global audiences. It’s crucial that the city continue to foster the creativity of its musicians and encourage venues to showcase their originality. Just as the theater district revitalized the Loop into a thriving entertainment area, I would like to see that same energy invested in neighborhoods around the city. Pilsen has become a hub for independent artists and small galleries. Ravenswood’s old industrial buildings are quickly being converted to artist workspaces and administrative offices for some of the city’s small theater companies. I would like to see these neighborhood-based artistic communities grow across the city by prioritizing zoning and development funding for arts and cultural hubs.”
One could argue that it would have been unfair for the Tribune to point out the seeming contradiction behind that statement and Emanuel having such close familial and financial ties to the corporate concert bad boys, since the newspaper was bending over backward to treat all the candidates exactly the same. Yet the facts that he’s taken money from Ticketmaster/Live Nation and 15 employees of Lollapalooza’s co-owner, and that his brother is on the board of directors of the former and runs the agency that co-owns the latter, are important and utterly unique—as unique as the 2000 election of George W. Bush coming down to a handful of votes in Florida, where his brother just happened to be governor and overseer of the agency doing the recount. And look at how that turned out.
Besides, the Tribune also could and should have noted that second-place candidate Gery Chico, despite his promises of having a strong cabinet member charged with promoting the arts and permanently killing the dreaded promoters ordinance for clubs smaller than 500 seats, contradicted his frequent stump statements about supporting “the little guy” and bolstering small businesses in Chicago by acting for several years as the local attorney for Ticketmaster/Live Nation—at the same time that he served as President of the Board of Commissioners of the Chicago Park District while it was considering several deals with Ticketmaster/Live Nation.
Again, Emanuel and Chico aren’t answering questions about these ties. But it certainly doesn’t help that other reporters aren’t asking about them.