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SIMMONS: D.C. needs Wal-Mart sans strings

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Wal-Mart and top D.C. officials shared the mayor's podium Wednesday to announce that instead of building four stores in the city, the retail giant now is hoping to plant a sustainable economic development footprint with six stores.

An early Merry Christmas to D.C. — or so you would think.

But instead of bowing to the eye-opening ghost of Christmas past, the anti-Wal-Mart, NIMBY and liberal souls of the District continue to kowtow to the ghost of Saul Alinsky, who birthed the modern-day community organizer movement.

The common-good strategy of these malcontents — and indeed their counterparts across the nation — is to force Wal-Mart into signing a community-benefits agreement that would dictate wage, hour and benefits packages, outline residency requirements and establish pro-environmental goals, among other things.

Critics also complain that big-box retailers drive out local and small businesses once their doors open.

D.C. officials shouldn't even expect Wal-Mart to sign a deal like that.

But, hey, this is D.C., where all elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, wear various shades of blue.

D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, who is up for re-election, spoke at the news conference Wednesday and carefully played her hand.

After acknowledging union members in attendance, she said, "Competition is very healthy."

While Ron Moten, a Democrat turned Republican and one of Ms. Alexander's chief opponents in the Ward 7 race, told me afterward that "competition is great, but it needs to be fair."

"They need to think about what happens when you run a small business and get pushed out," he said.

The role of government is to neither shore up nor push out businesses, large or small.

The government's role is to move out of the way so companies can compete.

It's not the government's business to establish, for instance, a level playing field for Giant, Safeway and Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has to be cautious with Wal-Mart.

On Wednesday, he rightly characterized himself as the city's "chief marketing officer" since, as things now stand, ornery unemployment numbers, an unskilled and undereducated workforce and cloudy tax-revenue downticks aren't exactly painting a rosy forecast for the nation's capital.

You needn't be a sucker for a full-throttle poke to know that if he plays the city's cards right, the D.C.-Walmart partnership could prove very profitable.

Officials shouldn't risk fouling up the prospects with a community-benefits agreement that, at the end of the day, fails to benefit taxpayers and stakeholders in the District.

Christian soldiers: Soon after the last of the Thanksgiving turkey is sliced and diced, and sandwiched, souped and stewed, attention will turn to tax donations.

Which causes? Which IRS-identified nonprofits and charities? Which 2011 donations can I claim in 2012?

The Salvation Army makes it very easy.

Located outside heavily trafficked Christmas shops of all sizes, the Christian organization's Red Kettle volunteers simply ring a bell that encourages us to be angels and drop in a few coins or dollars.

The money, as you may or may not know, benefits the hungry and the homeless, the healthy and the infirm, as well as substance abusers and job seekers who seek divine intervention.

If you're turned off by panhandlers or the rising cost of government entitlement programs, think about people who can't even afford to rustle up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

The Salvation Army bells also ring for veterans and anti-war activists — and it doesn't matter whether you advocate on behalf of the 1 percent or the 99 percent.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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