Wal-Mart stepped up their New York public relations blitz last week, donating $4-million to a city program that will help more than 1,000 Brooklyn teens get jobs this summer. And today The New York Post reports the retail giant has cozied up to Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, paying $150,000 to be the corporate sponsor of Markowitz's Martin Luther King Jr. summer concert series.
Markowitz, a longtime critic of bringing a Wal-Mart to Brooklyn, seems to have softened his opposition to the store, according to the Post. He thanked Wal-Mart for their philanthropy and support and told reporters, "I am not philosophically opposed to Walmart but I have been consistent in demanding they show a commitment to Brooklyn by paying a fair wage, offering health benefits [and] using union workers in any construction projects in New York City."
Wal-Mart has struggled for years to open a store in New York City and crack the country's largest urban market, but has consistently faced stiff opposition from community leaders who fear the big-box store would force local mom and pop businesses to close.
Recently, however, Wal-Mart has made some significant headway. City Council president Christine Quinn has been negotiating a deal for a Hunts Point location, and the Cropsey family, namesake of Brooklyn's Cropsey Avenue, has been pushing to bring a Wal-Mart to a large piece of land they own in Bensonhurst.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of free-market principles, defended Wal-Mart at a press conference last week after the 4 million dollar donation to Summer Youth Employment Program, which places people ages 14 through 24 in minimum wage jobs at major retail chains, according to the New York Times.
When asked by a reporter if the corporation's sudden charity for the city had something to do with their aggressive campaign to open stores here, he shot back, "You're telling me that your company's philanthropy doesn't look to see what is good for your company?"
Markowitz gave an even more telling response to the massive donation, saying simply, "This is a good, major first step."
The Brooklyn Paper reports that for months, "Walmart has tried to silence its critics with a major advertising campaign. In January, the company began taking out ads in dozens of local papers, including the Brooklyn Paper and Courier-Life chain, and started a website that recruits city residents to sign a petition in favor of a city store. The company also released a poll saying that 76 percent of Brooklynites would welcome the superstore".
Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company "has contributed close to $13 million across the five boroughs since 2007" according to the Post.