Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has hired a former top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as a consultant as it continues to explore the possibility of building a store in the District and attempts to navigate the city's zoning rules and neighborhood politics, the retailer said.
Kelvin J. Robinson, who was the mayor's chief of staff from 2001 to 2004, announced his resignation from the city government last summer, just before being charged with illegally urging city staff members to contribute money to the mayor's 2002 reelection campaign. He faces a hearing on the matter before an administrative judge next month.
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Within a month of leaving the Williams administration, Robinson began working for Wal-Mart, which hired him as word leaked out about the chain's negotiations to build a store in the District's Brentwood neighborhood, said Mia T. Masten, Wal-Mart's director of corporate affairs for the East Coast.
In his role as a consultant for the retailer, an arrangement the company never publicly announced, Robinson has introduced Masten to several members of the D.C. Council. And Robinson has met with developers attempting to work with Wal-Mart in the city, according to a person familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing future discussions with the chain.
Masten said she relies on Robinson to "find out what groups to meet with and the permitting necessary to go through in the Washington area." She said Wal-Mart routinely hires such consultants to help the company better understand local governments.
Of Robinson's alleged violations of the Hatch Act, Masten said: "I don't know anything about them. What we are using him for has nothing to do with the Hatch Act."
Robinson did not return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment. When he left the Williams administration, the 43-year-old District resident said he would become chief executive of EmergeDC LLC, a Washington affiliate of a Florida-based business and government consulting firm.
No telephone number is listed for the company. But according to campaign records, EmergeDC donated $1,000 in 2004 to the reelection campaign of Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's delegate to Congress.
Retail brokers said Wal-Mart's decision to hire Robinson, who worked closely with the mayor and the council, suggests company leaders remain serious about entering the market. Wal-Mart was close to signing a deal for a store in Brentwood before it determined the site was too small and abandoned the plan in August, according to sources close to those discussions.
"Having a political insider who knows the landscape and has a network would help ease the chain into the city," said John Asadoorian, a retail broker in the city.