Thursday, May 12, 2005

Yes Virginia, There is a Small Business Community

As all of the recent polls indicate, a great deal of growing support for Virginia Fields’s candidacy for mayor in the Democratic primary, it is a good time to analyze what her candidacy could mean for small business in general and neighborhood retailers in particular.

In the 1995 battle over Pathmark in East Harlem, Fields, even though she was an active member of Abyssinian Church, supported the use of public money for Abyssinian Development Corps’s proposal to bring the regional chain into Harlem. When we met her for the first time she remarked to us, “Oh, you’re the one who represents the ‘bodegos’”

It was pointed out to her that these so-called “bodegos” had collectively invested over 45 million dollars in the East Harlem community and any reference to them that implied they were bodegueros was demeaning. Her hostility, however, continued unabated even while council members who eventually supported the project made special efforts to visit the local supermarkets and comment on how well they were run.

Virginia’s work for the big guys continued as she helped broker another council deal that brought a shopping center to Laurelton, Queens, over the objections of the African American council member in the district and the Laurelton Federation of Block Associations. In fact, Virginia’s main role on the Council’s Land Use Committee was to be the primary midwife for all large real estate development.

Unfortunately, Virginia brought this mindset with her when she was elected Manhattan Borough President. When Steve Ross and Related were looking to build two huge Costco stores – without any parking – on the West Side of Manhattan, the labor-business-community coalition met with her to hopefully enlist her support. She told our group that she would be with us but subsequently failed to lift a finger in the effort that eventually led Related to withdraw its silly proposal. In fact, while Virginia did nothing, State Senator Tom Duane and council member Chris Quinn demonstrated what strong leadership was all about by rallying their communities to the cause.

With all this being said, it is important to point out that the purpose of campaigns is to give candidates the opportunity to expand their constituencies. In this vein, we welcome Virginia’s proposals on how she will treat the small business community. Given the mayor’s weak record, there is clearly room for all the candidates, although only Anthony Weiner has articulated a full set of proposals.

p.s. Given Virginia’s history, her rather weak initial comments on Wal-Mart (ones she later clarified), should make the entire anti-Wal-Mart coalition nervous.