Wal-Mart Plan Transfered Between City Council Comittees
People voice their support for allowing Wal-Mart to establish stores in Chicago, at City Hall Wednesday, July 29, 2009 (José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune)
There was little debate on the procedural move that now places the issue in the council's Finance Committee, which is led by powerful Ald. Edward Burke (14th). Burke said it is not clear yet when his committee will hold a hearing.
The decision dismayed dozens of protesters who said they want jobs at a new store.
After the vote, Rev. Leon Finney---the leader of the Woodlawn Organization and one of Mayor Daley's top allies on the South Side---stood up in the audience and yelled, "What happened?"
The protesters began chanting for the aldermen to vote on the proposal immediately.
The 21st Ward Wal-Mart plan has languished since 2004, when aldermen rejected a zoning change to allows the store's construction. There is only one Wal-Mart in Chicago, on North Avenue in the 37th Ward.
Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), who is trying to get the Wal-Mart approved for his ward, said he fears that the strategy of Wal-Mart opponents is one of delay. He said such delay could prevent the creation of important construction jobs in this lousy economy.
"I expect the opponents and detractors of Wal-Mart will try to delay," Brookins said, adding that the procedural maneuvering could prevent the issue from being considered until October. "That would be unfortunate for those in the construction industry."
Brookins also said the company is offering opportunities in an a community "that sorely needs economic development."
Gov. Pat Quinn, who is attending today's City Council meeting, told reporters that he thinks Wal-Mart should pay better wages.
"The most important thing is that Wal-Mart has to follow the lead of Costco," the governor said. "Costco pays a living wage, a decent wage. They pay good benefits to their employees, and that's what every employer should do."
Asked about the argument that a low-paying job is better than no job, Quinn echoed a common line of attack on Wal-Mart: "I don't think it's good to have a race to the bottom."
After the interview, a lobbyist for the Chicago Federation of Labor, which has fought Wal-Mart's entry into the city, shook hands and chatted with Quinn.
Outside City Hall, more than 200 protesters marched calling for approval of Wal-Mart. Many were members of the The Woodlawn Organization and were bused downtown after being provided coffee and doughnuts this morning.
"We need jobs to keep people off the streets, to keep these young boys off the streets and keep them from robbing and killing each other," said protester Jamie Crawford, 23, an unemployed mother who said she lives near where the new store would be located.
Other protesters were frustrated by the legislative maneuvering that prevented a vote on the proposal.
"I think the people who have the committeeship chairs are controlling it. It should be going to a vote," said Michael Bridges, 48, an unemployed construction worker.
Mayor Richard Daley has argued that there is a double standard, with critics blocking new Wal-Mart stores in Chicago but allowing their entry into suburbs that ring the city. Quinn said he would support a state "living wage" law that ensures higher minimum pay and benefits for all full-time workers.
The quick vote today came after Wal-Mart representatives yesterday tried to increase the pressure on the City Council ahead of today's company.
A spokesman for the company announced a polling firm made automated calls to Chicagoans with a one-question recording that touted the benefits of a new Wal-Mart, including more than 400 jobs and "a wider availability of fresh groceries and other goods."
The company said the recording also said opponents "say the jobs are not good enough."
Finney, today's protest organizer, also led protests last year at City Hall in favor of the plan to build a new Children's Museum in Grant Park. Daley backed that plan.
Read more from the Chicago Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos, Hal Dardick, and Dan P. Blake on Clout Street.
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