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If 2010 was the year Walmart launched its ambush on D.C., 2011 was the year the world’s largest retailer consolidated its grip. The chain’s unflappable emissaries weathered activist barrages while simultaneously playing the benevolent corporate citizen, ever-present with checks for good causes. Mayor Vince Gray asked nothing more from the company than their willingness to open a store at his neighborhood shopping center. In November, they announced plans to do so—and added a sixth location, too.
Gray, who won the mayoral election with the help of unions and community activists, placated Walmart critics by promising to make the company sign a “community benefits agreement” to help small businesses and guarantee D.C. jobs. But when the deal was announced, it had morphed into a “partnership initiative” with no binding requirements at all. The union-led opposition cried betrayal, but there was nothing to be done. To D.C.’s politicians, Walmart was in itself a community benefit. The lesson for onlookers: D.C. in recession is not so liberal after all.