Nathan J. Comp
Judge: 'Almost everyone is against the charge, because they remember when Halloween used to be free.'
Last year's Halloween festivities on State Street were the first in several years that revelers weren't dispersed by a plume of pepper spray. Credit for this went to the city, which fenced off State Street and charged an admission to offset the event's roughly $1 million price tag, mostly for police.
Last year's event, dubbed Freakfest, lacked the organic feel of Halloweens past, drawing a mere 35,000 people as opposed to the more typical 70,000. This year's Freakfest aspires to be a more robust event, with three stages for entertainment and a costume contest.
But like any event where tens of thousands of drunk people gather, the potential for mayhem and tragedy runs high. Civic leaders, police officials and State Street business owners hope Freakfest '07 goes as smoothly as last year's event. About 300 police officers and private security personnel will be on hand.
Madison Ald. Eli Judge, 20, whose district includes part of State Street, recently sat down to discuss this year's FreakFest planning, how his constituents feel about the event and whether a heavy police presence ruins the fun.
The Daily Page: What were the major sticking points in this year's Freakfest planning?
Judge: A lot of the concerns I had were [about] charging students. Last year they were charged, but not really anything came of that, besides offsetting some of the costs the city had to pay. One of the things I'm really happy about is that this year we're going to have actual entertainment. We're going to have bands on three different stages.
Have many of your constituents complained about the event?
It's kind of hit or miss. Almost everyone is against the charge, because they remember when Halloween used to be free. Personally, I'm against charging students for the event. But then again, the city has to pay $1 million for just the costs of the event itself. We would love to see UW, MATC and Edgewood students get in for free, while all of the out-of-state people would have to pay to help offset costs. But getting that through the council would be an uphill battle at best.
Has the event's commercialization made it less appealing?
That was something that I thought of a lot. While it is less appealing, and doesn't have that populist feel of everyone gathering on the street during a holiday, the thing that you get to trade off with is that it's very highly publicized. Hopefully, those advertisements will allow the event to be successful.
Leading up to the event, what are they city's concerns?
Safety is the number-one concern and has been since they had that massive bonfire of Halloween costumes. That's why they decided to set up the fences. There's going to be a huge police force and private security teams to help provide security. There will be mounted units.
It's going to be very busy on the isthmus that day. You have Homecoming, Halloween, a football game, a hockey game and, to the best of my knowledge, a volleyball game and a women's basketball game. So, there's going to be a lot of people downtown. Traffic is going to be a huge deal.
Do you think police should give revelers more latitude when it comes to drinking and having fun at events like Freakfest and the Mifflin Street Block Party? Seems like they've become very ticket-happy these last few years.
It's a really small minority of people who cause a lot of the problems that we've seen. A perfect example is a few years ago someone brought a real chainsaw to the event. Things like that are obviously things we don't want to see at an event like that. I want to make sure the event stays fun. The big thing is that Halloween itself is a major draw. It's famous and infamous at the same time. And I think most of the time the benefits outweigh the costs.
Why do so many men dress up as women for Halloween?
(Laughs) Is that a question aimed at a gay man or what? I have no idea. It is an interesting phenomenon. I'm sure there are books written about that sort of thing.