By Olivia Arnold, deputy city editor
A second high-ranking member of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration was indicted for union-related extortion charges on June 29 in connection to the city’s popular Boston Calling music festival, according to federal prosecutors.
Timothy Sullivan, chief of staff of intergovernmental affairs, and Kenneth Brissette, director of the Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, were arrested in June and May respectively for allegedly forcing a music festival company to hire union workers in order to receive city permits in 2014, the office of U.S. District Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement. The music festival has been widely reported as Boston Calling.
“I think [the indictments] could definitely affect the quality of the festival, and it also just kind of increases the already existing distrust between the Boston music scene and officials,” said Tim DiFazio, a junior English major at Northeastern who edits show and album reviews for Tastemakers, a student-run music magazine. DiFazio has never attended Boston Calling.
Boston Calling, which is held twice a year at City Hall Plaza, was required to apply for permits from the city of Boston for each festival. The music festival company announced in May that it would be moving to Allston in 2017 and that shows will only run once a year.
For its September 2014 event, the music festival had already contracted with a non-union company for workers, according to the U.S. district attorney’s office. Between July and September 2014, Sullivan, 36, and Brissette, 52, are accused of withholding permits from Boston Calling while pressuring the company to hire workers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 11, a Boston labor union.
Three days before the music festival was set to begin, Boston Calling hired eight laborers and one foreman from Local 11, despite already having all the workers it needed, Ortiz’s office said. Soon after, City Hall issued the desired permits to the music festival.
“I am deeply concerned about these allegations,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement on June 29, the day of Sullivan’s arrest. “I expect everyone to perform at the highest ethical standards. There is no room in my administration for the type of behavior that is alleged here.”
Walsh also said in the statement that he would be implementing an ethics training program for City Hall department heads and would have an independent panel of experts review the city’s policies.
“I will not pre-judge anyone’s guilt or innocence,” he said. “Nor will I tolerate anything less than the highest ethical standards.”
Regardless of the outcome of Sullivan and Brissette’s pending trials, DiFazio said he believes the potential entanglement with political corruption could hurt Boston Calling.
“It may make musicians less willing to play Boston Calling,” DiFazio said. “I think it will definitely have a very negative impact.”
Clare Cullinan, a sophomore international affairs major, disagreed, saying that the extortion charges would not deter students who would normally flock to the music festival. Cullinan, who attended Boston Calling in September 2015, said that she would be more likely to stop attending if she found out that the festival’s musical artists were being mistreated or underpaid.
“It would definitely leave a bad taste in my mouth,” Cullinan said of the extortion allegations. “But if [Boston Calling] was the cheapest and [a person’s] favorite band is playing at Boston Calling, I don’t think it would really affect it much.”
Photo courtesy David Parsons, Creative Commons