Retail politics

In Washington, politicians are fighting over debt. Closer to home, it’s groceries they get all worked up about.

The mayors of Somerville and Boston are currently beating up on Wal-Mart. The discount retailer is looking to urban expansion to boost flagging sales at its suburban and exurban superstores. That effort is bringing Wal-Mart into conflict with politicians and union activists who have long seen the chain as a bottom-feeding scourge.

The drumbeat has been lead by Boston Mayor Tom Menino. Menino’s city is on top of Wal-Mart’s store-opening wish list, while the mayor has no shortage of venom to direct toward the retailer. Menino has hit Wal-Mart over its wage structure and its fondness for selling guns. In recent months, Menino has said he’s “very concerned about how they treat their employees,” and suggested he wouldn’t accept the company’s sponsorship of Boston’s summer jobs program, telling the Herald, “Wal-Mart should settle some of the social issues they have to deal with first before they come to our city and throw money around like sewer caps.”

While it searches for a Boston site, Wal-Mart has locked up a Somerville location, committing to open up a food market inside an abandoned Circuit City near Assembly Square. The landing has been no friendlier.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone initially greeted the retailer by telling the Globe he has “deep concerns about Wal-Mart’s labor policies that must be addressed before we can support them moving into our community.’’ Yesterday, Curtatone upped the rhetoric, telling the Herald, “I’m not prepared to give Wal-Mart my blessing until they address concerns I’ve raised about labor issues. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve taken steps to make sure they meet community standards for labor and employment practices that we expect in Somerville.”

The Wal-Mart scuffle comes on the heels of a nasty battle over the arrival of Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain. In that case, residents and local pols complained about the grocer’s high prices and gentrifying effect on the neighborhood. Wal-Mart’s rap sheet runs the other way: It’s too down-market, its critics charge, and its wage structure helps price local competition out of business.

Conventional wisdom holds that there’s little political hay to be made in standing up for a $186 billion retailer from Arkansas. That’s why it’s curious that Wal-Mart’s first, and highest-profile, defender was Steve Murphy. The at-large city councilor from Hyde Park is a close ally of Menino’s; he’s also perpetually believed to be in danger of being bumped out of City Hall.

Despite all that, yesterday, Murphy delivered a swipe at Menino’s reflexive opposition to Wal-Mart: “There are lots of other communities that would embrace a Wal-Mart. What good does it do Boston to lose 450 jobs to Somerville? It doesn’t expand our tax base, employ city residents or provide a low-priced market in a tough economy.” 

                                                                                                                                                 –PAUL MCMORROW  


House Speaker Robert DeLeo directs one of his lieutenants to investigate the alleged misuse of funds at a special-needs education collaborative to see if legislative action is necessary, according to a State House News story in the Lowell Sun.

Attorney General Martha Coakley tells registers of deeds that she is investigating alleged misconduct by mortgage lenders and will not join any settlement between lenders and states that absolves the banks of liability, the Salem News reports.

A legislative committee approves a weekend-long holiday from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, the Eagle-Tribune reports (via State House News). The Springfield Republican supports the measure.

The State House News Service reports on state Sen. Steven Tolman’s intention to run for president of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts. Via the Patriot Ledger. Here is the Globe account.


Radio Boston examines race in Boston as the Urban League returns to the city for a convention for the first time since 1976. The Urban League has released an assessment titled “the State of Black Boston.”

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua’s “don’t sign anything” campaign to prevent his recall is making it difficult for city council candidates to gather the signatures they need for their nominating positions, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Swim at your own risk: A proposal to restore lifeguard positions at town beaches fails in Bourne.

Four bidders line up for a pair of publicly-owned parcels near Dudley Square in Roxbury. The parcels have been vacant since they were cleared to make way for the doomed Inner Belt highway.

Brockton residents with disputed water bills will only be responsible for the last two years of water usage, once their bills are adjusted, the Brockton Enterprise reports. The dispute stems from some customers receiving extremely high water bills due to faulty meters and poor billing practices. The Brockton School Department is one of the affected customers.

Devens launches its haz-mat center, a test drive for regionalization in the area.


Dueling prime-time television addresses by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner make clear that no there is no debt-ceiling deal within sight. Obama and Boehner didn’t achieve much, says The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. Politico, which offers transcripts of the two leaders’ remarks, says that Obama and Boehner talked past, not to, each other. Time says the president and the speaker offered the sort of spectacle that Americans have come to expect from Washington. John Harwood, sitting in for WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, hosts a roundtable discussion on the nation’s debt crisis with reporters and academics. The Globe looks at how the debt crisis has already begun to affect business expansion and hiring decisions in Massachusetts.  The Patriot Ledger asks, does the public understand the debate? The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson both throw up their hands at the spectacle. Meanwhile, Wall Street is preparing to take away the country’s AAA credit rating.  And The New Republic’s John Judis says Obama is channeling Herbert Hoover.


The Republican primary calendar is a mess, again.

Sarah Palin’s movie slinks out of the box office and onto pay-per-view.

Esquire profiles Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who doesn’t know that he’s supposed to be an angry panderer because he was buried in China during the whole Tea Party uprising.


A study by the Pew Research Center says the racial wealth gap is much worse in the wake of the Great Recession, primarily because of the decline in the housing market, WBUR reports.

The Patriot Ledger reports on traffic and environmental details of the proposed Quincy Center redevelopment project.

The Massachusetts real estate market has its worst June in two decades.


More than 2,500 Bay State high school seniors did not receive diplomas this spring because they failed the science portion of the state MCAS exam, the Globe reports.

Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman gets kudos after a year on the job.

A Bridgewater philanthropist has withdrawn his request to present an endowment plan for Bridgewater schools at a town council meeting, citing the town’s divisive politics.


The Cape Cod Times backs measures to improve eating habits in public schools as a new federal study shows that one out of five Massachusetts children under the age of 18 is obese,  

Federal auditors will begin reviewing health insurance rates in ten states.


The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration gives Americans a preview of what might happen in other agencies if Congress doesn’t get its act together on debt issues.

The Fall River Herald News takes MassDOT to task for failing to make repairs to a severely decayed city bridge following a damning inspection report.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $50 million donation to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign shows the best way to fight climate change may be to not focus on climate change, Time reports.


New Bedford officials are pleased with the performance of the new gunshot-sensor system ShotSpotter, the New Bedford Standard-Times reports.


For the Texas Tribune, events are journalism as well as money makers, reports the Nieman Journalism Lab.


Grieving widower Robert Kraft, who gets the credit for ending football’s labor impasse, has a message for Washington: “The debt crisis is a lot easier to fix than this deal was.”