Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quinn Goes Back to the Future on Wal-Mart

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn went back to the future yesterday when she emerged from office and led an anti-Wal-Mart rally on the steps of city hall. The rally, led by the RWDSU’s Stu Appelbaum and supported by the entire UFCW, was designed to send a clear message to the developer Related that it wouldn’t be a great career move to tenant its Gateway Mall expansion with the Walmonster: “Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined labor union activist and other opponents of Wal-Mart’s supposed efforts to break into the New York City market at a rally today on the steps of City Hall that sent the world’s biggest retailed this unambiguous New York message: “FUHGEDDABOUDIT!”

Yesterday was a real retro day as Quinn, who started off as a community activist who was a valued ally to those of us who were fighting box stores in her Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, channeled her old rabble rousing self. Daily Politics reports: “You know, it isn’t that we don’t want Wal-Mart,” Quinn said at the rally. ”It’s that we don’t want companies that have led the nation in law suits being brought against them by workers. We don’t want companies that have the largest class-action in history brought against them. We don’t want companies where women are, over and over, paid less than men and not promoted. You can be very clear that I don’t want that.”

And make no mistake about it, Brooklyn is in the eye of this storm: “Though Wal-Mart officials have denied that they are negotiating with Related Cos. to locate in it’s the Gateway Center in East New York, leaders of unions representing retail and food workers are keeping up their public and behind-the-scene pressure to prevent the non-union Wal-Mart chain from scoring a breakthrough in a city that still has significant union strength.”

The NY Post underscores the possible scenario: "While unions and New York officials lock arms to keep Wal-Mart from opening up a store in the Big Apple, the giant retailer might still have a golden opportunity to open its first city store. The opportunity rests with a Brooklyn development -- a commercial and residential project called Gateway II being built by real-estate giant Related Cos. near Jamaica Bay -- that has already won key zoning approvals from city officials, sources said. Those opposing Wal-Mart are trying to persuade Related and others to bring a smaller supermarket or other retailer to the site."

And, as we have pointed out before, the Brooklyn scenario is complicated by the fact that a chunk of the land slated for the mall’s expansion is owned, and must be conveyed, by the state. This is the pressure point that, although the expansion has already been approved by the city council (never buy a pig in a poke Charles Barron), gives the labor leaders-and the entire small business community some leverage over the situation. The state senate district where Wal-Mart is seeking to perhaps locate is represented by Senator John Sampson who is mulling over possible hearings on the retail giant.

And, as for Barron, he might be learning a bit about the value of oral contracts: "Councilman Charles Barron, whose Brooklyn district includes the Gateway II development site, said that during the approval process for the shopping center he extracted oral promises from Related executives that Wal-Mart wouldn't anchor the shopping center. "I had to accept Related's verbal commitment," Barron told The Post. "If they want to go against their word, they're going to have to deal with city officials in other projects who will see them as a company that cannot be trusted."

Still, Quinn was forceful yesterday-and underscored her labor-driven objections to the Wal-Mart incursion. As Daily Politics points out: “Wal-Mart’s corporate philosophy, Wal-Mart’s business plan is in fact a plan and a philosophy which runs counter to the core values of New York City, the core values of our workers, the core values of people who spend money to buy goods for their family. Now we in the Council feel very strongly that we need to get more retail establishments, particularly those that sell supermarket food good for people. That is why we are the first city in the country to pass a rezoning encouraging supermarkets to develop in the city of New York. But in that rezoning we were clear about the types of supermarket jobs we wanted and that we wanted them to be assets to the community and help build the community. That’s simply is not Wal-Mart. Now if Wal-Mart wants to usher in a new day we are happy to sit down with them and write a New York philosophy and a New York business plan. But until that happens they can call themselves whatever they want, they can have a new urban store that’s smaller, but until they change their ways they are Wal-Mart and they are not welcome in our five boroughs.”

Of course, the labor objections are the only reasons why the Walmonster is a bad idea for Brooklyn-and we have outlined the traffic, community quality of life, and small business rationale for opposing the mega-store. Still, it was nice to see Quinn channeling her earlier self-we hope she likes the old garb and keeps in on for more frequent anti mega development efforts in the future. Related has a lot to think about.