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ChicagoFest boycott faltering

By MARCELLA S. KREITER

CHICAGO -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson's call for a black boycott of Chicago's 12-day summer music festival faltered Monday, with a popular black restaurateur deciding against knuckling under to threats from boycott backers.

Leon Finney Sr., owner of Leon's Bar-B-Q Inc. and purveyor of 'Leon's Ribs,' announced Saturday he would not open a stand at ChicagoFest because of threats he received. On Monday, however, the South Side businessman said he decided to honor his commitments to his employees.

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Jackson, national president of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), has called for a black boycott of what is called America's largest annual music festival to protest Mayor Jane M. Byrne's appointment of three whites to the board of the Chicago Housing Authority.

At least two of ChicagoFest's headline acts -- Stevie Wonder and Kool & the Gang -- have dropped out of the event since Jackson began organizing a boycott.

The festival, Mrs. Byrne's prize project, is set to open Wednesday.

Jackson, who has called for picketing at the festival, also threatened to seek an injunction to stop the event on the grounds participants have illegally received contracts on the basis of campaign contributions.

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In an unrelated move Monday, the Better Government Association filed suit Monday, charging Mrs. Byrne illegally bypassed the City Council in awarding the no-bid Chicago-fest contract to Festivals Inc., which has put together a series of festivals for the mayor. The class action suit seeks to recover more than $1 million paid to festival organizers and to force the mayor to comply with state financing and contracting laws.

But BGA officials said the government watchdog group's suit was not aimed at blocking ChicagoFest's opening.

And Finney said he would be there with his prized ribs when it opens.

'I feel I have to keep my commitment to my employees and to the ChicagoFest,' Finney said in explaining why he changed his mind. 'I wasn't going to open because of the threats. I was protecting my places out South. I thought the people wouldn't be able to stop the pickets.

'But because of my position and the money invested and the blacks I have to hire, they (the boycott leaders) sympathized with me. They said they were out to get the message across and not to intimidate anybody and that they would do everything they could to stop anything negative to my barbecue places. They understand my plight.'

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Finney said he talked with Jackson during the weekend and was assured there would be no organized picketing at his restaurants.

Despite the boycott threat, city officials said ticket sales are way ahead of last year's. So far, 40,000 tickets have been sold.

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