THE BLOG

Riot Fest and Public-Private Partnerships

05/07/2015 01:09 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

Chicago's annual Riot Fest was once a long weekend where punk bands from all over the country along with hordes of merry pranksters took over Chicago (well at least Chicago north of Lake Street and east of Rockwell). It was an opportunity to hear full sets from great bands - some of which rarely toured. You could carpool and hop between the Metro, the Congress, the Double Door, and other venues to see bands like Nofx, Gwar, and X in their native environments - clubs and bars.

That all changed in 2012 when promoters changed the event's structure to that of an outdoor festival. The lineups were relatively the same, a hodgepodge of local and national extreme music acts, but the sets were shorter and it was moved outdoors to Humboldt Park. The festival now resembles more of a scaled-down Lollapalooza.

The use of public land required promoters to negotiate what is known in policy circles as a "public-private partnership." This has become the norm in Chicago, a concept championed by Mayor Daley and a key tactic in Mayor Emanuel's administration.

Often, these public-private partnerships happen with little to no input from the community. Riot Fest left almost $200,000 in damage to Humboldt Park after the 2014 festival, so the community activists organized to say no to Riot Fest 2015.

The parking meters, charter schools, and even Soldier Field operations are all examples of public-private partnerships. The idea is that a municipal government is the arbiter deciding which private contractors get contracts to take on city operations.

In many cases - some of the most lucrative contracts go to people who make campaign donations to the gatekeepers.

Typically, those gatekeepers and gatecrashers never speak of this as quid pro quo.

Riot Fest founder Michael Petryshyn must have not gotten that memo. After Alderman Roberto Maldonado said no to using Humboldt Park for Riot Fest 2015, he issued this statement (emphasis added) :

"Due to the economic benefits Riot Fest brings to many 26th Ward businesses, the hundreds of thousands of dollars Riot Fest has donated to ward charities, our support in his re-election and, more importantly, job creation in a ward that has sorely lacked new job development, the alderman and Riot Fest have been on the same page in shining a positive light on our culturally rich and magnetic neighborhood," Petryshyn said.

Petryshyn's honesty is not something you see from other clouted business owners in Chicago (which is probably a big factor in how they remain clouted).

Riot Fest's support for Maldonado had nothing to do with his being the best candidate in the 26th Ward? I thought it was odd that a company built on punk rock ideals would support an alderman who caught heat from his community for supporting a deal to turn a neighborhood school into a Marine Corps military academy.

Riot Fest has a long tradition of booking anti-war bands like Propagandhi, Articles of Faith, and Rise Against.

Petryshyn follows the ward-boss line of reasoning with the "job creator" argument made popular by Mitt Romney and championed by Governor Bruce Rauner.

The "job creator" line is what insulates corporations from scrutiny, gives them unlimited access to power, and in many cases - keeps them from paying taxes.

The Alderman is faced with a decision -- who should have say over use of the park? Residents or campaign contributors?

Riot Fest has found a champion in one politician that received contributions from Petryshyn -- First Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, whose ward does not include the park.

The whole scene reminds me of storyline in The Wire where gangster Stringer Bell decides to get into a legitimate real estate side business. He made massive contributions to State Senator Clay Davis who implied he could get him grants to fund his ventures. Davis promised he would "make it rain" on Bell. When the grants didn't come through, Bell's attorney told him he was "rainmade" - promises were implied, but never made and in the end, Bell never had anything to show for his contributions.