Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Daddy Wal-Bucks

The NY Post is reporting that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has quietly accepted a $15,000 contribution from Wal-Mart-something that doesn't sit well with the RWDSU's Stuart Appelbaum: "Top labor leaders are furious with Senate Democrats for quietly accepting a $15,000 campaign contribution from Walmart, the union-hostile retail giant believed to be interested in putting its first city store in state Senate leader John Sampson's Brooklyn district, The Post has learned. A little-noticed entry in the Senate Democrats' "housekeeping account" filed last month with the state Board of Elections lists the July 12 contribution, apparently the first ever by Walmart to state Senate Democrats."

Appelbaum's response? Send it back: "Retail and Wholesale Workers Union President Stuart Appelbaum yesterday angrily accused Democrats of accepting Walmart's "blood money," and demanded that the cash be returned. "The Democrats need to send the money back to Walmart with a note, 'No thank you. We are better than that,' " said Appelbaum. "This is blood money," he charged."

The Democrats' response was perhaps instructive: "Senate campaign spokesman Eric Blankenbaker wouldn't respond directly to Appelbaum's criticism but said, "Some [Senate] members support Walmart and some don't. That's why we have support from a broad coalition of groups. "Senate Democrats have received support from labor, business, real estate, you name it, and it's not reflective of any one member."

From our view, what is most troubling about the contribution is its timing-and the looming prospects that the Walmonster may be eying a location right smack dab in the middle of Leader John Sampson's East New York district: "Blankenbaker, asked about the possibility that the Walmart contribution was tied to an interest in locating a store in Sampson's district, responded, "I don't think it's related."

Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating-and we are awaiting word from Senator Sampson about the Wal-Mart hearing that he signed onto last June. The timing for such a public airing could not be more propitious, since the prospective hearing's focus was going to be on the environmental impact of the giant super center right off of the Belt Parkway. The NYC Department of Health has already weighed in on the city's air quality-and wouldn't you know that air around highways was found to  contain the highest degree of pollutants.

As we commented last week:

"The report, which examined various types of air pollution, revealed that a variety of contamination occurs throughout the city, depending on the type of neighborhood. "The take-home message here is that the air quality just isn't great anywhere in New York City. What's surprising is just how variable the air quality is across the city," Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said."

And guess what the DOH found? That's right, outer borough neighborhoods right next to highways are those that are most dangerous to your health: "Lower and midtown Manhattan, The Bronx and outer-borough neighborhoods that flank major highways have higher levels of this form of pollution. Neighborhoods with the largest crowds during the day had, on average, 22 percent higher levels of particulate matter, while areas with the heaviest traffic had an average of 15 percent more than other neighborhoods in the study, which was conducted between June and August 2009."

Now, from our view, there are any multitude of reasons why one could take issue with the entry of the Walmonster into New York City-and a corollary to the DOH findings is the fact that Wal-Mart-along with the rest of Related's huge mega-mall-siphons shoppers away from the local neighborhood businesses; a further manner in which the city's carbon footprint is increased. Local shopping is environmentally friendly and is more in keeping with the mayor's professed (but often violated) sustainability goals-not to mention the fact that the local shopping dollars and independently owned stores is a bigger economic boost to the city's economy than sales generated from national chains.

So a Wal-Mart store creates a great deal of collateral damage-and we haven't even broached the company's atrocious labor policies. Senator Sampson needs to move forward so that the various stakeholders-labor, enviros, small businesses, and community groups-can weigh in on the wisdom of Wal-Mart in East New York. Now that the retail giant has ante-d up, its time for the Dems to turn over their cards.