- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2011

Two close advisers and a fundraiser for D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander are paid members of Wal-Mart’s local “consulting team” now promoting a retail outlet in Ward 7, which Ms. Alexander represents, according to the Arkansas-based retailer.

Derek Ford, treasurer for the Democrat’s constituent services fund and her campaign, has been hired by Wal-Mart’s local public relations firm to help the company “better understand the unique challenges that communities are facing and to find ways to work together toward solutions,” company spokesman Steve Restivo said.

In addition, Mr. Restivo said, Wal-Mart’s D.C. team includes Darryl Rose, a developer and Ms. Alexander’s campaign manager, and lobbyist Brett Greene, an Alexander fundraiser.

In January, Ms. Alexander said she was in favor of Wal-Mart building a store in her ward as a way to stimulate jobs and retail options. But at a recent meeting of community leaders at Kelly Miller Middle School, a community member questioned whether Wal-Mart’s relationships with Mr. Ford, Mr. Rose and Mr. Greene were appropriate in light of their ties to Ms. Alexander, according to people who witnessed the exchange.

Ms. Alexander did not directly address the question, the people said, but she ought to be prepared to, said Mark Rom, an associate professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

“If anyone is getting paid by both Wal-Mart and Ms. Alexander, then one of those payments must be terminated,” Mr. Rom said. “But even if there is no direct conflict of interest, the question is, can she stand in front of her constituents and say these advisers don’t influence her decisions?

“If so, then I don’t see a problem. But if she can’t, then she clearly recognizes that she is putting herself in an ethically dubious position of looking like she has something to hide,” he said. “And even if she can openly address her constituents, she has to understand that political opponents will challenge her as being in the pocket of Wal-Mart.”

Ms. Alexander already faces questions about office space she leased with constituent services funds — space she recently shuttered because of unpaid bills — and about how she has spent the funds she raised to meet the urgent needs of her community, which includes some of the poorest households in the District.

She has spent more than 95 percent of the constituent services funds she raised on consultants, caterers, fundraisers, community events and the cost of maintaining her office, which she also uses as a campaign headquarters, The Washington Times reported Thursday.

Ms. Alexander, who won a special election to the council in May 2007, defended her record of service to her community in a statement Thursday but declined to comment for this article.

One of the consultants is Mr. Ford, who has received more than $8,000 from Ms. Alexander’s constituent services fund since 2007, according to required quarterly reports filed with the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). In addition, a $1,000 payment from her constituent services fund in October went to an unregistered business whose address is an apartment owned by Mr. Ford.

OCF records also show that Mr. Ford received $9,000 in campaign consulting fees from Ms. Alexander during that same period. Reached by telephone, he had no comment.

Mr. Rose, president of a small development company, has received more than $40,000 in campaign consulting fees from Ms. Alexander since 2008, OCF records show. He could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Greene, who has close ties to a number of D.C. politicians, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray, organized a fundraiser for Ms. Alexander last year. He did not return calls and text messages.

The retention of Mr. Ford, Mr. Rose and Mr. Greene is part of a broader business strategy by Wal-Mart to improve its image, according to a representative of the Walker Marchant Group, the retailer’s local public relations firm.

“Their role is to act as a community liaison to make sure Wal-Mart is meeting with the people they need to be meeting with,” said the representative, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.

On Thursday, Mr. Restivo said Walker Marchant joins Mr. Greene, fellow lobbyist David Wilmot and lawyer Claude Bailey as the core of Wal-Mart’s “D.C. consulting team.” Mr. Ford and Mr. Rose were hired as consultants by Walker Marchant, he said, adding that Wal-Mart is looking to bring in other local consultants to play a similar role in Wards 4, 5 and 6, where the company is proposing to build additional stores.

“These are smart, influential people who live in the communities where we want to open stores,” Mr. Restivo said. “Each of them has a vested interest in seeing good things happen in the wards they live in.”

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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