The Selling of Walmart is on the cover today, and as usual, the tyranny of newsprint required some omissions. From the director’s cut:
- Walmart wasn’t the only one with a lobbyist. Labor-backed Respect DC coalition also hired someone for a short stint last winter to work the halls of the Wilson Building: Craig Kirby, a D.C. and federal government veteran who now runs his own consulting firm (though he’s not offiicially registered as a lobbyist). But it’s pretty hard for an independent operator to go up against the biggest retailer in the world, and Kirby only had analogies to describe the experience of lobbying councilmembers who had essentially made up their minds. “No matter what you say, where you go, who you know, Walmart has already touched them,” he says. “You sit back and you think to yourself, it’s kind of like a first grader looking at an eighth grader. What can you do?” Also: “Walmart is like air,” Kirby tried again. “You don’t see it, but you know it’s there.”
- Along with the Latino Economic Development Corporation’s Manny Hidalgo, IMPACT Silver Spring’s Frankie Blackburn, and the Community College of D.C.’s CEO Jonathan Guevarra, Greater Washington Urban League president Maudine Cooper also went to Bentonville. And the wooing didn’t stop there: Walmart also presented at the Urban League’s ministerial group of about 40 clergymembers, and toured staff around a store in Virginia, all of which left Cooper feeling bullish on the retailer’s offerings. “Even people who have done terrible things—-and I’m not saying they did, but if they had—-the opportunity to have a company in that provides economical prices, but more importantly provides over 1000 jobs, that to me is the selling point,” Cooper says.
- Some bits of the Walmart story aren’t specific to D.C. To get an overview, I spoke with Patrick Fox of Saint Consulting, which helps companies develop strategies to overcome NIMBY opposition. According to their Saint Index, opposition to Walmarts is actually shrinking: In 2010, 54 percent of Americans said they would oppose a Walmart in their community, which is down from 63 percent in 2005. But it’s still the least-favored retail operation in the country, according to Saint’s data, falling behind only landfills, casinos, and quarries in the degree of opposition it stirs up.
- One of the more remarkable differences between D.C. and other cities is the quietness of the building trades unions. In Chicago, they were a major player, but here, they’re just trying to work out deals with each developer to get their members jobs on the new projects. Though supportive of grocery workers, their goals are somewhat different. “It does put us in an awkward position, because we have a much smaller window,” says the building trades‘ legislative liaison Stephen Courtien. “Anybody can try to organize Walmart until the walls collapse, but we have one shot.”
- Also, it can’t have helped that Walmart’s former local government affairs representative, Rhoda Washington, is now doing the same job for the mid-Atlantic region of LiUNA, one of the country’s biggest construction unions. Washington declined to comment for the story.