Housing Complex

A Tale of Two City Councils

A modest gathering. (Lydia DePillis)

Last Thursday, the New York City Council held a hearing on Walmart's attempt to enter the market (it had to be rescheduled from December because a bigger room was needed). Walmart itself declined to show up, leaving a parade of anti-Walmart speeches to go largely unanswered. Council Chair Christine Quinn, an outspoken critic of the retailer, said that Walmart's “refusal to attend, sadly, only leads me to be further skeptical about them as a company.” At a raucous rally outside, public advocate Bill DeBlasio joined the chorus of disapproval, while a councilmember whose Brooklyn district is being considered for a Walmart location called it a "plantation."

The scene was very, very different at a rally in front of Washington D.C.'s Wilson Building this afternoon. No public officials showed up to support a rally demanding a binding community benefits agreement that would include things like a living wage and assistance for local businesses. Councilmember Michael Brown's Housing and Workforce Development Committee has no plans to hold hearings, and Economic Development committee chairman Harry Thomas is probably the most pro-Walmart person on the Council.

After a morning of meetings with officials and staff, which yielded no evidence of a coordinated strategy on the part of politicians to compel Walmart to do anything, the advocates' disappointment was palpable.

"Our councilmembers are acting like they don't know what Walmart is," said Brenda Speaks, an ANC commissioner representing the area near Walmart's proposed Georgia Avenue location. "We did not get any satisfying answers from one councilmember."

The problem was quite easy to understand in Safeway and Giant employees' audience with Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who started the meeting by asking why grocery unions wanted Walmart to pay more than Safeway and Giant do already. (Answer: Unions think they have a chance to make Walmart set a higher standard for other grocers. As it stands, Walmart has already depressed wages at Safeways and Giants ringing the District. Of course, workers living in Maryland and Virginia don't count for much when canvassing the Wilson Building.)

Barry quickly came out with his position: Ward 8 needs all the consumer goods it can get, and he wants a Walmart too. While voicing support for the union's living wage goals, it was pretty clear that he'd put up with a lot to persuade Walmart to come. "My job is to get 'em here," he said, naming a few sites that are under consideration.

Another problem: Building a broad base of support, and keeping it on message. The Living Wages, Healthy Communities coalition is largely funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and organized be the small staff of D.C. Jobs with Justice. It includes environmental groups, the Federation of Civic Associations, and four local churches, but hasn't brought on the faith community in a big way. "Most churches are slow to embrace the social justice aspect of Jesus' ministry," said Reverend Howard Finley of Florida Avenue Baptist Church, explaining the lackluster response from houses of worship.

Officially, the coalition isn't "anti" Walmart, saying that they just want the company to be a good corporate citizen when it does arrive. But there are definitely still those who want to keep Walmart out altogether–even at the rally, "We don't want Walmart!" cries mixed with the compromising appeals for respectable wages and benefits, which makes it difficult for politicians to stand in solidarity.

Why the difference between D.C. and New York? Partly, it has to do with the historic strength of the union movement in the big apple, which never developed to the same extent in D.C. Also, lots of parts of the District are actually much more suburban feeling than even the furthest regions of Brooklyn. Finally, New York communities are comparatively well-served by a wider variety of lower-end grocery chains, like C-Town and Key Food, which also feel more threatened by Walmart's encroach.

That leaves Yes! Organic Markets owner Gary Cha, feeling much more lonely. Again, he came with a battery of statistics about jobs destroyed and small business sales stolen (see video below). But so far, it's not clear that anyone with even rhetorical power is listening.

  • Tom

    You can't love living in a society based on capitalism and then hate Walmart. I also think people who shop at Yes Organic Market will not get groceries from Walmart. DC losses millions of sales tax dollars to VA and MD, at least now the money can stay in DC

  • http://jamesgarayheelan.com James

    Michael Brown's position on public hearings reported in this article are in stark contrast with his presentation to ANC 4B last month. At the ANC meeting, CM Brown said he was all in favor of public meetings, although he did hedge and state that he was waiting for Wal-Mart to have an actual plan (in regard to the proposed Ward 4 site) before he would respond.

  • Ward 7

    It would be wonderful to have union jobs, and someday after the famine we'll work on that. However, when you are starving, aking for caviar is a bit pretentious.
    Ward 7

  • Rick Mangus


  • http://www.twitter.com/jdb820 Jason

    Not only will that tax money stay in DC, but tax monies from MD and VA-based wallets very well could be coming into DC, especially the close-in Maryland suburbs.

    Walmart is doing a very good favour by attacking DC's "food desert" problem and both Giant and Safeway deep down inside know that having someone that's non-union on the lower end will hurt them just as much as Harris Teeter hurt them on the upper end. They learned this in the suburbs where Wegmans, Bloom, and a (unionized to a lesser degree) resurgent Shoppers are eating their lunch.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Tom; I agree.

  • realist

    You gotta love it.

    Pushing for concessions from Walmart? What could these communities possibly want? Walmart is going into sections of the city that have an unemployment rate in the mid 20's and whom 65% of the ghetto population doesn't even have a highschool diploma and these people want "concessions".

    They've been screaming for better shopping options for years, well here you go. These unskilled, basic labor jobs that these Walmarts will bring tons of are just the things for these DC communities.

    But like every other opportunity that comes to DC, I am sure if the ghetto lifers don't want them, you'll see VA and MD residents comutting hours a day to get them.

  • Southeast Ken

    I don't see these individuals protesting against illegal immigration and it's negative impact on black U.S. citizens in construction, housekeeping, and in the hospitality industry. Tonight on Fox5DC news, I saw Josh Lopez, the Guatemalan immigrant running for the DC At-Large Council seat speaking out in support of illegal immigration. The federal government is finally doing their job by cracking down on employers that hire illegals. Josh Lopez is quoted, these people are hard working people and they shouldn't be penalized by the federal government. Duh, these people broke U.S. laws by crossing our porous borders coming here illegally. Many purposely have babies to make them U.S. citizens. Congress need to change the 14th amendment by stating, illegals having babies here will not automatically make them U.S. citizens. Wake up black America, illegal immigration is affecting us the most and many Central Americans and Mexicans look down on blacks and black Hispanics.

    I support Wal-Mart coming to DC and I support seeing U.S. citizens and legal residents with a Green Card living in the District being hired for these jobs.

  • http://tonyewilson@verizon.net Tony Wilson

    Good Grief people!

    This is a free country!
    If you don't like Wal-Mart, don't shop there.
    If you don't like their wages, don't work there.

  • Skipper

    What are there supposed to be hearings on when most of the planned Walmarts would be matter-of-right construction and they're not seeking any sort of city financing or tax abatements?

    For most of the planned Walmarts, neither the city politicians nor their union puppetmasters have any leverage over Walmart.

  • Michael Wilson

    It is true that most of the sites that Walmart has identified in DC are "by right" and they do not have to ask the city for anything. In Ward 4 they still need to go through an administrative review process through the Office of Planning called Large Tract Review and in Wards 6 and 7 they have to go through a process through the Zoning Board called Planned Unit Development. The Ward 7 site is also currently owned by the Department of Housing. These things can be leverage points.

    The biggest pressure point though is that Walmart is trying hard to change its image as it goes on the offensive to enter urban markets around the country. It is trying to enter NYC, DC, San Diego, Philly, Boston, expand in Chicago, among others. As they do this they have been buying lots of good PR through huge charitable donations and lots of promises to reform its ways when it comes to the food it sells (the healthy food initiative with Michelle Obama) and the environment. It has also conceded to having its stores built by union labor.

    At the same time it has done nothing to address its terrible record when it comes to the way it treats its own workers and those in its supply chain, and many of the changes it has promised for its environmental record have not been followed through on. It is true that many of the areas it is proposing to open are in need of jobs, but DC is in a position to make demands of the largest, richest corporation in the world. Why take minimum wage jobs when with some pressure we can get living wage jobs? This isn't a choice between bad jobs and no jobs, we can make these jobs good ones.

    It is also a fact, proven by numerous studies, that Walmart causes net job loss in communities it enters by driving smaller competitors out of business. Whatever your criticisms of Giant and Safeway, or local small businesses, they generally pay more and offer better benefits than Walmart. Even if you look at best case scenario, that Walmart creates as many jobs as it eliminates, if the jobs are worse, the community still loses.

    So, we have pressure points, we have reasonable demands, as Tony Wilson says, its a free country, why not use our bargaining position to get the best deal we can? Walmart is welcome to come to DC, as long as it puts its promises to improve our community in writing and signs on the dotted line.

  • Tom

    @ Michael Wilson, I put myself through school working at a Walmart in Florida. The job stinks just like any big box retail, but if you are a good employee you will be rewarded. I don't remember about healthcare but I'm sure the options were to expensive or crappy unless you were a deptartment manager or better. However, you get a discount at the largest most price competitve retailer and an employee stock purchase plan at 15% below market value (meaning you already make 15%). Is Walmart a shining beacon of employee benefits and the best place to live? No Walmart is not the greatest place to work, but its not the Devil Unions and activist make it out to be.

  • NorthWest Ken

    Southeast Ken- you're a race-baiting idiot. I don't see hordes of Black people lined up to do the menials jobs these immigrants are willing to do. And in DC, Blacks have long benefited from social programs that have made a lot of them feel entitled and unwilling to work hard. So, yeah, you go ahead and organize your peeps. I'll hedge my bet on the immigrant community any day of the week.

    It's only liberal yuppies who are protesting the Walmarts. If they could only use that energy instead to actually do something productive, wouldn't that be something.

  • NorthWest Ken

    Michael Wilson- what really is your fucking problem? What company is willing to chance and can even afford moving into SE DC, which has some of the worst stats for any urban City in country. You're pushing because it might force Walmart to change it's philosophy? You fucking privileged prick. This will provide jobs and cheap goods to low income families. Go argue your fucking philosophy in front of the GAP in Georgetown.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; I'm a race baiter? First of all idiot, being Hispanic or Latino isn't a fucking race. These large demographic group of many nationalities can be of any race idiot. You do know the difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant Northwest Ken? Many of the Salvadorans/Central Americans working and living in DC are illegal, therefore they shouldn't be allowed to work in this country. Many use false Social Security numbers and have stolen others identities. If myself and others were to do or commit these type of crimes, our black asses would be thrown under a jail.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken, you are the racist by making the statement generalizing that blacks are on welfare and have benefited from social programs. What about illegal alien pregrant Mexican and Central American women crossing the U.S. border to have their babies to given them U.S. citizenship to get U.S. benefits like WICK? Everytime I turn around, I see a Central American woman pregnant along with 3 or more children at a young age. This demographic group (Hispanics) fuck like animals and have babies at a much higher percentage than black or white U.S. citizens. Give me a break moron!

  • NorthWest Ken

    "First of all idiot, being Hispanic or Latino isn't a fucking race"... hahaha. Well, this is rich. You start off calling someone an idiot and then go on and make an idiotic statement yourself, classic.

    You should re-read your own post asshole. I guess it's only a touchy issue when someone mentions Black people in a negative light right? Well, fuck you. I'll stand by my comments. I would prefer to live in a ghetto infested by Hispanic immigrants, who work hard and want to do better in life than in a community like Anacostia where many of the residents just want a hand-out from the government. You talk about illegal activities on these immigrants, but what are they really trying to do. Get a job, pay taxes, raise a family. Oh wow, fucking criminal acts for certain.

    But, look at crime rate in predominantly black neighborhoods, where all of the residents are "legal". Hideous crimes occurring daily and a lot of it, violent. They aren't fighting to put food on the table, they're fighting over fucking sneakers, cell phones, and fake gold necklaces. Remember the mass shootings last year? Over what? A fake fucking necklace.
    So yeah, my comments might offend you, but yours don't make any sense at all and everyone in DC knows it. Gentrification cometh bitch.

  • Southeast Ken
  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; you are probably an illegal yourself or your fat Central American mammy that came across the border illegally to have your anchor ass. If you are a cracker, go fuck yourself.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; and look at the crime rate in Central American barrios. Don't forget the largest gang in American and in El Salvador, MS-13. MS-13 is one of the most violent gangs in the USA and in El Salvador.

    Myself and my parents have never been on welfare.

  • Southeast Ken

    The majority of voters believe Federal Government encourages illegal immigration, support military along southern border.


  • Rick Mangus

    WOW!, that was a spirited debate!

  • NorthWest Ken

    Southeast Ken- The US was "founded" by illegal immigrants and this has been its guiding mission from the very start. You're just upset that they're taking away from your community. There is a very simple solution to your gripe- get your ass up and work. And get everyone who's complaining that there isn't any jobs out there to McDonald's or the parking lot of a Home Depot, or to the hundreds of shit jobs that these immigrants do to get by. Since you all have legitimate social security numbers, you will get the jobs no problem. But I guarantee that you and most of your neighbors will find an excuse not to do it and instead, cry out to the government that there isn't any jobs out there.

    Also, when arguing about the crime rate of the District, it's best not to use stats from Central American barrios, cause you know, we're not really there. We're talking about DC and who commits the worst crimes. The numbers don't lie, you little bitch.

    I'm glad the government is encourages immigration, even illegal immigration, because without it, we'll have lazy fucks like you who only want to bitch and moan about the same system that feeds and houses your ass.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; if you must know, I have a job and I'm a college graduate. Fuck you, your mammy, and the rest of the illegals that you're defending. You probably is 4 foot inches tall with. You are a piece of mestizo shit that came out of the woods of El Salvador or some other fuck up Central American country. You are the bitch like the whore that had you. You would never say your racist shit to any black man's face anywhere in the United States.

    You probably is a pedophile like many of your fellow country men. You like to generalize by calling all blacks lazy. Well, many Central American men like to molest young boys and girls.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; You are a piece of mestizo shit that came out of the woods of El Salvador or some other fucked up Central American country.

    I bet, you are 4 feet inches tall with gold fronts like many of the peasants from Central America living illegally in the United States. Don't won't, a civil war is coming and assholes like you along with supporters of illegals will not win this fight. Both black and white U.S. citizens have spoken, we are fed up will illegals destroying our quality of life in our middle class neighborhoods.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    The 14th Amendment was written to allow the children of slaves to automatically become citizens. Their parents were not here in violation of residency laws. The amendment has been too broadly interpreted and needs to return to original intent.
    The assumption that all illegal immigrants are gainfully employed at jobs no native would want is wrong. If those jobs are too low-paying, the market would adjust to reflect the true value of the work, since it would take a long time to identify and deport the illegals
    In fact, with consistent application of existing laws, lead by our federal government and supported by local governments and citizens who value their country's sovereignty, the problem can be resolved over time. Of course there are problems to be solved with children who were brought here by their parents, etc. but that is not a reason to delay fixing the things we can fix.
    No one is denying the value of immigration, from the Original Native Americans to the present day, we are all immigrants or their descendants, so stop already with that lame argument.

    A government that no longer obeys the will of the American people, will suffer the wrath of the American people!!! I suggest that this government take a good hard look to what is happening in EGYPT!!!!

  • Bob See

    "I don't see these individuals protesting against illegal immigration and it's negative impact on black U.S. citizens in construction, housekeeping, and in the hospitality industry."

    Funny, I see plenty of U.S. citizens (black or otherwise) working at Walmart.

  • NorthWest Ken

    Southeast- you are pretty fucking stupid and I'm glad that this "debate" has pointed it out to the world. I haven't attacked Blacks on any other level than what is perceived to be a shallow sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to do the same level of work that many immigrants choose to do. You on the other hand, while claiming not to make this a race issue, is attacking me because of the distinction I made (and am certain many believe). I'm not an illegal immigrant myself nor were my parents or even great-great-great grandparents. At some point in time though, my ancestors were immigrants (and I'm certain illegal at that). Almost everyone in the US today are descendants of illegal immigrants.
    You seem to be up in arms about the notion that something was taken away from your community because of this new wave of immigrants in the area.
    Now, you fucking retard, understand this- Walmart will provide jobs for people, regardless of their race but very cognizant of their immigration status, so you fucking original point on this forum is fucking pointless. So, me and mammy and whoever else, will welcome here Walmart with open arms while you and your mammy will continue arguing a non-existent issue. You fucking idiot.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; go fuck yourself, you bottom bitch.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; you are a racist cracker. Your racist comments and support of illegal aliens proved my point. Kiss my brown ass bitch and go fuck your mother because she's you sister also.

  • NorthWest Ken

    Southeast- so you fucking moron, you're so stupid and feel so entitled, that you're ignoring that fact that you're as much if not a worst racist than I am. It's a shame that such stupid fucks like you came come on to a forum like this and pretend that you're arguing for something noble, when in fact, you're in the gutter worst than even I am. At least I'm willing to admit my prejudices. You claim that you're aren't making this a race issue, but then every other word is about Salvadorians, mammies (isn't this a Black term), etc. So, either you're too fucking stupid to realize how dumb you sound or you're too blindly entitled to know the difference.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Northwest Ken; you are a loser dude. Yes I'm against illegal immigration. I realize your spelling of the word Salvadoran, you are a Salvadoran. No I don't like Salvadorans because they are racist fucks like Mexicans towards blacks or black Hispanics.

    Once again, fuck you and your fat mammy that came across the border to have you. You are a bitch and coward. You would never say your racist bullshit to any black person, male or female without getting a beat down.

  • Southeast Ken

    I bet you are Josh Lopez saying this shit. Don't like your black Kappa brothers find out, you are a racist piece of shit towards blacks.

  • ARzondzinska

    NorthWest Ken: With regard to your statement that it's only yuppies who oppose Wal-Mart's incursion into D.C., take a look at the photos from last Monday's Advocacy Day, in which people attempted to gain support from D.C. Councilmembers to require Wal-Mart to make promises regarding living wages, health benefits and the like. These people do not fit your stereotype.

  • ARzondzinska

    NorthWest Ken: Oops, I see I neglected to include the link to photos from Advocacy Day: