“We don’t feel like D.C. should trust Walmart’s track record to build the future of this city,” Respect DC organizer Mike Wilson said Saturday morning. He spoke with TheFightBack in the lobby of Northwest One Public Library, just a couple blocks from the future site of the Ward 6 Walmart, one of six slated to come to D.C.
Wilson was scheduled to be among the panelists at a community meeting organized by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C on the Ward 6 Walmart planned for 801 New Jersey Ave, NW. Representatives from Walmart and JBG, the developer for the Ward 6 site (and the Fort Totten Walmart), were also scheduled to participate, but the meeting was suddenly cancelled Friday afternoon.
“Once Walmart and JBG found out that we had invited community members and residents to attend what they had wanted to be a closed meeting, it was cancelled by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission,” said Wilson. ANC 6C-01 Commissioner Keith Silver, who’s single member District includes the Ward 6 Walmart site, said that when things began playing out differently than he had anticipated, he and he alone pulled the plug on the meeting, without pressure from Walmart, JBG or the Bennett group, which controls the site at 801 New Jersey Avenue. Commissioner Silver hopes to reschedule the meeting in the very near future since site preparation is already under way.
A press release issued by Respect DC, a coalition working to make Walmart’s entry into D.C. conditioned upon its signing a community benefits agreement, said, “Walmart and JBG have attended only one community meeting [for the Ward 6 site] that was open to the public… That meeting [was] held over a year ago.”
Unlike D.C., which hasn’t held so much as a Council hearing on Walmart’s arrival, New York City has been proactive in dealing with the advances of the world’s largest retailer. “It would be shortsighted to allow this destructive monopolist to enter the New York City market via the Trojan Horse of ‘job creation,’” concluded a joint 2010 report by Hunter College and New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
In addition to the promise of jobs, Walmart argues that opening stores in urban markets is a solution to food deserts. A recent study by the Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, however, concluded, “Walmart’s entrance into the New York City market could severely undermine – if not reverse – the progress made by [existing fresh produce initiatives].”
A report released last week by Food and Water Watch, “Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System,” explains why the country’s largest food retailer, which rakes in one-third of U.S. grocery sales, is not the solution to food deserts.
“When there is one player this large connecting food producers and food consumers, consumers are no longer the food industry’s customers – Walmart is. And the saying ‘the customer is always right’ has never been more appropriate. Walmart is such a large customer that even large food processors cannot refuse any demands that Walmart makes upon them. The company’s model is based on practices that drive consolidation; take money away from farmers, workers and processors; and drive agriculture to get more industrialized.”
“It’s concerning to say the least that our elected officials, who are bringing these stores into D.C., aren’t willing to do the basic amount of research on what it’s going to mean long term for the city,” said Wilson, who thinks influence peddling is at least partly to blame for D.C. legislators’ lackadaisical approach to Walmart.
In Wards 4 and 7, where Walmart is looking to bring two stores each, the company’s lobbyist, David Wilmot, has done fundraisers and favors for the councilmembers. Wilmot threw a fundraiser for Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser at his home, and may have served on Bowser’s reelection finance committee, which she denies. In addition to throwing a fundraiser for Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander that was co-hosted by Mayor Vincent Gray, Wilmot recently acted as Alexander’s attorney in a case before the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, for which he he charged her an undisclosed sum. “David Wilmot has been a family friend for years,” Alexander told the Post last year.
In addition to lobbying for Walmart, Wilmot has a stake in the Bennett Group which controls the New Jersey Avenue site thanks to a sweetheart deal with the District. Wilmot’s political connections may explain why the Bennett Group has paid so little in taxes while the valuable publicly owned property has laid fallow for more than two decades, serving as a parking lot for the federal government for much of it.
While political donations and favors may curry favor with councilmembers, Walmart brings in the big guns for the mayor. The Walmart/Walton Foundation has coughed up $3 million for a jobs training program and funded the recent IFF study of D.C. Public Schools (which not surprisingly reached the same conclusion as its paymaster: close public schools, open charters.) In 2010, the Walton Foundation donated $25 million towards the controversial teachers’ contract, which undermined tenure and sought to enshrine the anti-union Michelle Rhee as chancellor.
“There’s just no real willingness to look at the track record of this company,” said Wilson. “It’s just unfortunate that [our] elected officials have turned into either silent or loud cheerleaders for Walmart.”
Related Sites: www.respectdc.org