Wal-Mart Rears its Ugly Head Again and Other City Council News

08/02/2010 10:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Four weeks ago, after a long and contentious debate, Chicago's City Council voted unanimously to allow a zoning change for a Wal-Mart to open a store in Chicago's far south side Pullman neighborhood (making it the second Wal-Mart in the city, the first being in the west-side Austin area).

Who knew that the next Wal-Mart proposal would be this month?

But sure enough, before the ink was dry on the first zoning change, Mayor Daley pushed for a third Wal-Mart -- this time at 83rd and Stewart -- to be approved at our July 28th Council meeting.

The Mayor submitted the proposal to the City Council Finance Committee, of which I'm a member. In my last City Council report, I explained why I voted in favor of the Pullman Wal-Mart -- in recognition of both the serious negotiations between the company and Chicago's unions and the serious lack of retail and food options in the Pullman community. But now, I believe it is time to slow the train and wait to see if Wal-Mart lives up to its promises in Pullman. As the City Law Department acknowledged, there is no written agreement with the City binding Wal-Mart to its verbal assurances.

I voted no. Unfortunately, I was the only committee member to do so.

The proposal reached the full Council on Wednesday. My concerns regarding Wal-Mart's track record of predatory pricing, meager employee benefits and anti-unionism have not changed. I voted no again, and three of my colleagues, Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward), Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward), and Gene Schulter (47th Ward), voted no as well. Still, of course, the measure passed, and a third Wal-Mart will soon be built in Chicago. One has to wonder: Why the rush? As the Wal-Mart juggernaut gathers steam, vigilance will be needed more than ever.

There was other business on Wednesday, too. Among other key items was a vote to approve the transfer of RCN Chicago to Yankee Cable Acquisition, LLC. This seems like a pedestrian financial item, but actually it included two very important issues that were of concern to me:

(1) Cable Access Network TV, or CAN-TV, is supported by RCN and the other cable companies, and it is extremely important that protections are in place for Yankee to continue this support. CAN-TV, as you know, is a rare resource that provides television access to ordinary people -- not just to those with money and power. I was able to secure a promise on the record that Yankee Cable will honor RCN's commitment to CAN-TV.

(2) Through hearings, we learned that the ownership of Yankee, though it includes women, lacks African American, Latino, or Asian-American representation. One has to wonder how a cable company can serve a diverse community if it is not diverse itself.

This lack of diverse ownership led me to vote "no." Although the Council voted to approve the ownership transfer, the vote was surprisingly close (by Chicago City Council standards): 28-19.

Finally, in response to the State of Illinois's disastrous fiscal affairs, I sponsored a resolution calling upon the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor to pass into law "comprehensive, fair and sustainable fiscal reform." Thirty-four of my colleagues joined me in this resolution. Illinois currently ranks 42nd in its tax rates and 45th in state spending on services.

For a copy of the resolution, click on the attachment below:

We are all aware of the fiscal plight of the state (possibly the worst in the nation) and the resulting hardships to education, healthcare and general quality of life. Every ounce of fat and waste could be slashed from the state budget, and we would still be billions of dollars in the hole. The only responsible remedy is fair and increased state revenue, rather than additional service cuts, and this resolution urges the State government to take the necessary proactive steps to improve its fiscal bottom line.

The City Council recesses for the month of August and will reconvene on Wednesday, September 8th at 10 a.m. Look for another City Council report then.