Monday, June 28, 2010

Hitting the Wal in East New York

The NY Post and Wal-Mart-perfect together. In its ongoing effort to promote the retail giant, the Post ventures into The East New York site that may hose the Walmonster and finds-what else?-almost unanimous support for the store: “Walking through the area, The Post was hard pressed to find any resident who didn’t want a Wal-Mart, either because of the jobs it would provide or the low-priced goods it would sell.

But those nasty politicians are standing in the way of the utopian Wal-Mart future: “But politicians — including Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilman Charles Barron, who staged a protest with unions last week at City Hall — seem intent on “saving” those New Yorkers from Wal-Mart anyway. “We don’t want companies that have led the nation in lawsuits being brought against them by workers,” Quinn explained. “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.”

And the Post goes on to compare the fight over Wal-Mart to the battle over the Kingsbridge Armory: “The fight is similar to that surrounding The Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory, which was being developed as a shopping mall until the City Council voted down the Related project because retailers refused to pay a “living wage” of $10 an hour with benefits. The Armory is an empty shell now, with no shops, no activity — and no jobs of any kind.”

Of course, the Post doesn’t bother to go up to the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood-over to Fordham and Kingsbridge Roads where there are still vibrant neighborhood shopping strips, employing thousands of New Yorkers, struggling to survive in this recession. The Post isn’t much for understanding zero-sum games in the city’s neighborhoods-but then again its support for Third Term Mike would have already made that clear.

The paper does, however, assume-falsely, we believe-that there is no way to stop the Walmonster from encroaching on one of the city’s poorest neighborhood; and even Speaker Quinn appears to be grasping at straws when speaking from a shaky bully pulpit: “Since Related owns the property, it would seem to have the right to pick whatever tenant it wants. Bloomberg added that, “The City does not have the right to say to one business, ‘You can’t come here,’ and we’re not going to do that.” Quinn, however, isn’t giving up. “We’re looking at all of the council’s land-use and legislative powers to see what options we might have to prevent Wal-Mart from coming to New York City,” she said. “We’ll continue to work with the labor unions to see what support and help we can offer.”

But, as we have noted previously, a chunk of the land slated for the new development is state owned-and its conveyance just may be discretionary. If so, then the Post’s assumption that Related owns all the property isn’t true and a major battle could be just beginning.

And don’t you get a kick out of the supposedly pro-business mayor pontificating about how the city can’t dictate to businesses where they can locate? But it can, under his watch and at his discretion, force businesses to post signage it doesn’t agree with, and alter its menu boards so that the mayor can dictate his own health agenda. Guess it all depends on who the dictator is.

While we do sympathize with the folks who are out of work and need a job, most people don’t realize how the Walmonster creates an oasis in one spot, and desert everywhere else-as a recent study of the impact of a Wal-Mart store in Chicago dramatically points out. And we haven’t even begun to highlight the severe environmental damage the retail giant will cause along the Belt Parkway on the local streets in East New York.

But to point that out would be to hold the mayor to his sustainability standards-guidelines that are enshrined in his PlaNYC 20230. When it comes to mega retail development, however, sustainability standards give way to the Bloomberg double standard-as the developments at Willets Point and Flushing Commons underscore.

So, as the Albany session winds down, we expect that Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson-who represents the East NY community-will turn his attention to the Wal-Mart situation. If the needed state land becomes a sticking point, we believe that Sampson will become a key player in deciding the fate of Wal-Mart in Brooklyn. Stay tuned.