The vote sets up a high-profile veto decision for Gray, who has supported Wal-Mart’s entry into the city, arguing that the company would bring badly needed jobs and retail stores to neighborhoods in need of both. The three stores that the company has pledged definitively not to pursue are all in the city’s eastern half, in areas largely devoid of quality retail.
Gary D. Rappaport, the project’s developer, has said Wal-Mart’s withdrawal would put those plans on ice. “If there’s not a Wal-Mart at Skyland, then Skyland is not able to go forward at this time,” he said late Tuesday.
The mayor initially called Wal-Mart’s announcement of its ultimatum “immensely discouraging” and said much the same in a letter to council members delivered Wednesday morning. “It is clear that numerous issues remain unclear about the impact of the bill on the District’s current economic development renaissance,” he wrote.
Gray, who has met recently with Wal-Mart representatives, reiterated “serious concerns over the lost jobs and retail opportunities for District residents that the bill will cause,” in a statement released after the council vote.
Before this week, Wal-Mart had made statements opposing the bill but had not directly threatened to withdraw from its plans.
Seven years ago, when the retailer moved to open its first store in Chicago and the City Council there passed a similar “living-wage” measure, the company indicated then that the bill would cause it to scale back or entirely scrap its plans to open several stores, Mayor Richard M. Daley vetoed the bill, and the council failed to override it.
The debate over the living-wage bill has been highly pitched, echoing conflicts elsewhere in the country over similar measures targeting Wal-Mart and other “big box” retailers.
Several dozen pro-Wal-Mart protesters rallied on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building on Wednesday, while inside a larger group of living-wage supporters walked from council office to council office hoping to pick up additional votes.
“If you allow a bully to bully you, it’s never going to end,” said the Rev. Graylan Hagler, the senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and a leader of pro-living-wage group Respect DC. “There will be something else. There will always be another agenda.”
Hagler and union supporters hailed what they called the council’s resolve in the face of Wal-Mart’s warning but acknowledged that fending off a mayoral veto could prove difficult. “We’ve got some work to do,” he said.
Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) said the company’s threats were credible and constituted her “worst nightmare.” She moved unsuccessfully to table the bill Wednesday before voting against it.
“This legislation is a development killer,” she said. “This legislation is a jobs killer.”
Orange, early in the debate, said the “District has arrived” as a desirable place for major retailers to locate. But council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), a mayoral candidate, said that was not true throughout the city. “When I go to Skyland, we have not arrived,” she said. “That project has been some 20 years in the waiting.”
Voting in favor of the bill were Orange, Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), David Grosso (I-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). Voting against were Alexander, Bowser, David A. Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
Tim Craig and Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.