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Aldermen Thu Jul 01 2010

Joe Moore, Champion of Progressivism, Defends Pro-Walmart Vote

Back in 2008, The Nation magazine's John Nichols named Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward the country's most valuable progressive local official. The bestowing of this distinction upon Moore sent some Rogers Park residents into a tizzy. (Although the extent to which residents were actually upset is difficult to gauge--in the 21st century one yahoo's pissed-off blog post can become fodder for reports of residents foaming at the mouth, ready to march up Sheridan Avenue with pitchforks to Moore's office.)

Moore has always been a somewhat polarizing figure--folks tend to really, really like him, or really, really hate him. (Granted, this could be more of a reflection of Ward 49 residents than Moore himself.) Whatever your opinion on the man, though, it seems illogical to accuse him of not being a progressive.

But the MVP alderman took to the Huffington Post today to defend a vote for a company whose name makes most progressives recoil in disgust: Walmart.

Moore voted yes (along with the rest of the city council) to allow a zoning change in the far-South Side neighborhood of Pullman that would allow Walmart to construct a second store there. He says he cast the vote with "great trepidation, and gives a bevy of quotes and data citations you might expect in an anti-Walmart article:

Walmart recently announced plans to open dozens of new stores in Chicago's neighborhoods, including stores that could be as small as 25,000 square feet in size. This means that neighborhoods, such as Rogers Park and Edgewater in my 49th Ward, could potentially be home to a new Walmart store. Given Walmart's track record of engaging in "predatory pricing," and other measures to drive out the competition, I am gravely concerned about the long-term impact on our small and locally owned businesses of dozens of new Walmarts in Chicago.

A Loyola University and University of Illinois study of the impact of Chicago's west side Walmart concluded that stores near Walmart were more likely to go out of business, eliminating the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs -- about as many as the new Walmart created. The study supported the contention that urban Walmart stores absorb sales from other city stores without significantly expanding the market.

In short, Walmart is not a panacea to our unemployment problem, and in fact may make the economic development climate worse in Chicago neighborhoods, especially those neighborhoods that already have locally owned stores that pay employees more than Walmart wages.

Then why the vote?

I voted for the zoning change to allow for the Walmart because I wanted to honor the hard work of the labor and community organizations that fashioned the agreements and because I recognize Walmart is the only retailer that has promised to bring fresh produce and other products to the Pullman community's "food desert."

He notes the fight he helped lead against the company in the past, and the major concessions (including negotiating wages that will make Walmart employees the highest-paid in the country) the council was able to wring out of them.

Still, a vote by Moore for a company known on the Left as the most potently evil force in the universe is surprising--and for progressives, deeply disappointing. If only Joe had read this week's Chicago Reader cover story...

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