Monday, June 07, 2004

Updated June 7, 2004 at 3:00 am.
Ald. Brookins and Ald. Lyle debate and discuss with show host Jeff Berkowitz whether the Chicago City Council should permit a Wal-Mart to be placed in Ald. Brookins’ Ward.
Jeff Berkowitz: Do you know how many stores Wal-Mart has in the country? In the United States?

Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th Ward, Chicago): 3500 in the world. 1.5 million employees.

Berkowitz: How many stores does Wal-Mart have in this country? I think it is closer to 3500, you are saying that is worldwide?

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward, Chicago) : I think it is 3100 in the country.

Berkowitz: So, can 2000- 3000 municipalities be wrong? Are these places wrong that have Wal-Mart? One of the largest companies in this country is wrong? Would you say that IBM was wrong? Microsoft was wrong? Are all of these companies wrong?

Ald. Lyle: Wal-Mart is definitely wrong. I will say that. And, municipalities also have done impact studies on Wal-Mart before they let them in. There is a whole slew of regulations and ordinances and big box ordinances that have been spurned as a result of Wal-Marts coming in. There have at least four studies in terms of the impact on small business and that is my concern. And all of those studies—

Berkowitz: Ald. Brookins?

Ald. Brookins: And I understand her concern. I really do. But, to say and draw this imaginary line when Wal-Mart--- I would argue that Wal-Mart already is in the City of Chicago. At Bedford Park, they are literally right across the street.

Berkowitz: They are doing Okay?

Ald. Brookins: People do not distinguish—

Berkowitz: Businesses are not being put out of business?

Brookins: We would need to talk to Ald. Murphy, but that is not one of the things that he has said—that the Wal-Mart across the street from his ward has driven all of the businesses out of business. The other thing that I would like to say is that I don’t believe it is just Wal-Mart. I believe that it is big box retail, in general. Big Box retail would have the ability to—

Berkowitz: People get big discounts because they are more efficient. That happens with all such stores. Would you be against all stores that do that. Are you against Target stores? Is there a Target in your Ward?

Lyle: [with] Ald. Schiller right now, we are looking at big box regulations because it is an issue of big boxes and we are looking at—

Berkowitz: But, there is an efficiency gain. Do you want the people in your Ward to pay higher prices because they can’t stop at the most efficient store.

Lyle: You know, people want to say that people need choice and that this is a free market and that is wonderful and choice is great except that if there are no other businesses after Wal-Mart is there for five years, where do you get the choice from?

Berkowitz: Is that what has happened to Wal-Mart. They have been around a long time. Have they been coming in and leaving?

Lyle: Wal-Mart has dried up every small town throughout the City of—throughout the Country when they come in and there are studies that justify that. There are studies that support that. UIC did a study. DePaul did a study saying that it would not be a net growth to the City of Chicago with Wal-Mart coming in.

Berkowitz: But, there are studies that go the other way. You know that.

Lyle: There is one study.

Berkowitz: Well, there is one study. [Also], we look at the reality. And, we look at 3100 stores and I just don’t see the citizens up in arms saying get the [Wal-Mart] stores out of here.

Lyle: Oh, I see it. This is how corporate America acted>

Berkowitz: You don’t like corporate America?

Lyle: This is corporate America at its best. Let’s make—

Berkowitz: You don’t like Microsoft? You don’t like Dell?

Lyle: Let’s make profits. And, that is what the country does. And, that’s Okay, but Jeff, I have to worry about the little people.

Berkowitz: All right, so what is going to happen on the 23rd [of June. The date for which another vote was scheduled in the Chicago city council regarding granting a zoning variance to developers in Ald. Brookins ward to permit a Wal-Mart and other retail outlets to be built there].

Brookins: It may not go on the 23rd. It [the vote] may actually be pushed off until July. I am not sure.

Berkowitz: But, when it comes up, are you going to get a favorable vote on the zoning [change].

Brookins: I don’ t know. It is close.

Berkowitz: What do you have to do: Some people have said you didn’t work the alderman the way you were supposed to; it was an issue of going to aldermen and telling and explaining and doing what aldermen do—is that a valid criticism?

Brookins: No, I don’t think so. I had- I believe I had 26 votes on the day of the vote. Unfortunately, one of the persons had to leave early.

Berkowitz: So, what are you going to do differently?

Brookins: I am going to get everybody in the room at the same time when it is time to vote [Laughter.]

Berkowitz: All right, so you are going to be doing some lobbying. You are going to be providing some information. What is Wal-Mart going to be doing? Have you been talking to them.

Brookins: Wal-Mart is going to provide some other information and do some other things to get people to feel warm and fuzzy.

Berkowitz: Are they going to give Ald. Lyle a call(?). Ald. Lyle, you would give them a chance?

Lyle: They came in to talk to Ald. Brookins. He invited me to the meeting.

Berkowitz: Do you have an open mind. Could you become persuaded that this is beneficial to his Ward and to your Ward?

Lyle: I have an open mind. I need to see (A) How many stores are they going to put in the City in terms of squeezing businesses. They are putting two on the South Side: One on 83rd and Stewart and one on 95th and Western. And that is real close to me. So, we need to talk.

Berkowitz: You want a written agreement saying how many stores they can put here?

Lyle: I don’t need a written agreement to that.

Berkowitz: You just want them to tell you?

Lyle: I would love to find out that they are going to do living wage.

Berkowitz: $10.00 or $11.00 per hour sounds like a living wage, doesn’t’ it.

Lyle: We need to see that.

Berkowitz: But, what about the people who want to work for $7.00 per hour; [Perhaps] it is their second job. [Or,] they are a teenager and it is their first job. You are pricing them out of the market. Is a person better off being unemployed at $11.00 per hour than employed at $6.00 per hour?

Lyle: But, that is not the issue.

Berkowitz: It is the issue.

Lyle: No, it is really not.

Brookins: There is one issue that I didn’t address. I believe that a small business will learn to adapt and they have in some situations learned to adapt to cope with this type of thing. For example, the smaller grocers got together and formed a co-op. They buy all of their groceries together.

Berkowitz: This happened 40 to 50 years ago when small grocers joined together. They buy in volume; they buy in discount.

Brookins: When Jewel, Osco and Dominicks arose.

Lyle: But, they [Wal-Mart] went into California and they caused the biggest grocers’ strike just by entry of Wal-mart.

Brookins: But, I do believe even when you have a Wal-Mart and you have them in Orland Park and you have Target and other stores in Orland Park and other places like that and it appears that the economy is bustling and it hasn’t bankrupt the town. So, I believe that small business will adapt; they can co-exist with a Wal-Mart; they will learn to do things differently- sell things that Wal-Mart will not or cannot sell.

Berkowitz: Free markets adjust. People in a free market adjust. Free markets adapt, this is what made this country great, right.

Brookins. I agree.

Berkowitz: We are not a command and control economy, except in the city of Chicago, where the City Council says you can’t be here.

Lyle: And, that’s what made Chicago great.

Berkowitz: Having a command and control economy?

Lyle: The fact that we have our finger on the pulse. We are trying to save our neighborhoods.

Brookins: I think we all are.

Ald. Howard Brookins and Ald Lyles on “Public Affairs.” The show, taped on April 5, will air in the suburbs during the week of June 14 and will air in the City of Chicago on June 21 at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21.