Wal-Mart is right up there with "Big Oil" as a left-wing bogeyman, and the mainstream media are often on the side of liberal activists screaming "Boo!" as our friends at the Business & Media Institute can attest. But today's Chicago Tribune laid out how "[b]ig city politics trumps low prices" with a labor union victory over Wal-Mart's plans to erect a store within city limits.
The paper's Web site featured a teaser headline, "Why Wal-Mart's not building here," [pictured at right] complete with a photo of the still-vacant lot that's been the subject of debate for over two years.
The teaser headline links to staffer Sandra M. Jones's story, "A closeout for Wal-Mart: Giant retailer ends quest to open a store on the South Side."
Jones's report fingered negligence by political leaders and inflexibility by labor unions as the twin causes of the project's demise. From her May 8 story (emphasis mine):
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s hard-fought battle to turn Chicago into a beachhead for urban expansion across the country has come to a quiet end, at least for the foreseeable future, as big-city politics held sway over low prices.
Now the world's largest retailer is turning its attention to a backup plan of opening stores just outside city limits, banking that thousands of low-to-middle-income city dwellers will travel to collar suburbs to shop at the discount store. Among the suburbs Wal-Mart is looking at are Calumet Park, Cicero and McCook, according to people familiar with Wal-Mart's plans.
Wal-Mart got the word from city officials last month that Mayor Richard Daley doesn't want to risk a messy showdown with unions over Wal-Mart-like the big-box store battle of 2006-while Chicago is still in the running as a host city for the 2016 Olympics, according to people familiar with the matter. The International Olympic Committee is slated to make that decision in October 2009.
"That's the end of the story, at least for the next two to three years," said John Melaniphy, a Chicago-based retail real estate consultant. "I think in the long run they'll end up in the city one way or another, but it's going to take them a long time."
Daley, siding with business, took a political bruising in the summer of 2006 when he overturned, in his first veto, a big-box ordinance passed by the City Council. The ordinance, aimed at Wal-Mart, would have set minimum pay and benefit levels for any major retailer with a store 90,000 square feet or larger.
In the wake of the veto, unions poured millions into the City Council elections in a successful bid to support candidates who, among other things, were likely to oppose Wal-Mart's city expansion.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who tried and failed to bring Wal-Mart to his South Side ward, said he's not happy with the decision.
He said he plans to woo retailers at the shopping industry's annual trade show in Las Vegas this month, hoping to find a replacement for Wal-Mart.
"We're not guaranteed the Olympics," said Brookins, "but we're guaranteed to get [sales] tax revenue from Wal-Mart."
There you have it. Millions of dollars from labor unions to stop, well, millions of dollars worth of economic development, tax revenue, and new jobs. Kudos to the Tribune for reporting the story and giving it prominence on its home on the Web.