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By Pete Tucker

May 2, 2011

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is attempting to enter urban markets, having already saturated many suburban and rural areas.

D.C. and New York City have dealt differently with the company’s attempts to open stores. In New York, city officials have held public hearings and issued substantive reports pointing up Walmart’s potentially harmful impact. But in D.C., officials have largely taken on the role of cheerleaders and Walmart is slated to build six stores in the nation’s capital, where presently it has none.

“Unfortunately here in D.C., our elected officials have been much more on the side of Walmart,” Respect DC organizer Mike Wilson told TheFightBack‘s Pete Tucker, who guest-hosted Capitol Correspondent‘s May Day special on Voice of Russia Radio which airs in D.C. and New York City.

Wilson questioned the cozy relationship between several D.C. officials and Walmart, as well as the company’s use of the powerful lobby firm Patton Boggs, which provides D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans with a $190,000 salary. “[This] raises additional concerns about what’s going on here in D.C.” said Wilson.

Walmart has faced a great deal of scrutiny of late in the wake of The New York Times‘ report that the company paid Mexican officials more than $24 million in bribes and then attempted to cover it up, a possible violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“To be honest, I’m not really surprised,” Maritza Silva-Farrell said regarding the allegations against Walmart. Silva-Farrell has spent a couple years doing battle with the company as senior organizer for the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), a member of the Walmart Free NYC coalition, which has successfully kept the world’s largest retailer out of New York City.

Walmart’s inability to enter the Big Apple is noteworthy in light of the money it has thrown around. The Times reported, “[I]ts foundation has given more than $13 million to [New York] nonprofits since 2007.”

But in D.C., Walmart has taken its giving to another level. The Washington Post reported that Walmart’s foundation gave more than $2 million to D.C. nonprofits in 2010. More recently, Walmart provided D.C. with $3 million for job training. But the company’s biggest D.C. payout, $25 million, was for the controversial 2010 teachers’ contract which weakened tenure and attempted to ensconce the anti-union Michelle Rhee as D.C. Schools Chancellor.

Despite this tremendous outlay of money, Walmart has faced significant opposition in D.C., albeit not from city officials. Walmart initially said four of its six D.C. stores would open by late 2012, but now says just one of its stores will open before 2014. The delay was caused by “resistance from activists and opponents,” noted the Post.

“I think [this is] a clear indicator that they don’t have the support here in D.C. that they claim to,” said Wilson.

To listen to the interview, visit Fight Back Radio