Marion Barry Defends Walmart Vote in Washington

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(CNN) — Marion Barry, former Washington D.C. mayor and now city councilman, is standing by his vote to raise the district’s minimum wage for large retailers–a move that throws a wrench in Walmart’s plans to open its doors in the nation’s capital.

“What really tipped me over the edge was the fact that Walmart was sticking us up. By saying if you don’t do this, we’re going to do that–we’re going to leave here,” the Democrat said Thursday on Fox News.

The bill, known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act, increases the city’s minimum wage to $12.50, a 50% hike above the city’s current minimum wage, which is already a dollar more than the minimum wage in neighboring Virginia and Maryland.

Walmart had publicly opposed the bill’s provisions, saying in a Washington Post opinion piece that the cost increase would create “an uneven playing field” and “challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.”

And a spokesman for the company said the bill will cause Walmart to halt construction on three of the six stores planned for the city. Two stores are already scheduled to open this fall.

“This was a difficult decision for us…but the council has forced our hand,” a Walmart spokesman told CNN’s John Berman. “Our wages and benefits meet or exceed those offered by most of our competitors.”

Barry said Walmart’s ultimatum further encouraged his decision to vote for the minimum wage bill.

“You don’t get a job at any price,” he said Thursday. “They have held us hostage, we’re not going to take it.”

Walmart says the six proposed stores would create 1,800 jobs and bring more affordable products to underserved communities. The retailer has been working with the district for three years to start building a solid reputation among concerns that it would drive out small businesses.

Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray, as well as the Washington Post’s editorial board, have been supportive of Walmart’s efforts, arguing the economic development would be a net win for the city.

In the opinion piece published Tuesday, Walmart described the city council’s move as an “eleventh-hour effort to try to undermine” the company’s attempts to be a beneficial player in the community.

The bill defines a “large retailer” as a business that has 75,000 square feet and whose parent company’s gross revenues total $1 billion or more per year. While the bill appears to be targeting Walmart, the Washington Post reports that the grocery chain Wegmans has also expressed concerns about the legislation.

The bill now goes to Mayor Gray’s desk, where he can sign or veto it. If he chooses the latter, Barry pledged the city council would override his veto.

In the confrontational interview, Fox News host Eric Bolling brought up Barry’s own controversy, in which he was censured and fined Thursday by the city’s ethics board over financial disclosure violations.

Asked why voters should trust him, Barry maintained that his experience qualifies him to make decisions for the city.

“I may lose credibility through you and your viewers, but I have gained credibility. I mean I was mayor for 16 years, another mayor for four years. I’ve been in this business since 31 years, trying to bring dignity and justice,” he said.

Barry’s return to politics marked a comeback after serving a six-month jail sentence for a 1990 drug possession charge and entering a 2005 guilty plea to misdemeanor tax charges.

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