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2009-08-18
Johnson City, NY. Anti-Wal-Mart Activist Runs For Mayor

One anti-Wal-Mart activist from a small community in upstate New York fought hard against a superstore, and now she's fighting to protect her entire village from dissolution. On September 25, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a developer called Newman Development, based in Vestal, New York, wanted to build a 130,720 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter in Johnson City, New York, population just under 15,000, on the site of the former Endicott Johnson Ranger Paracord site in the village. Newman Development had been trying to redevelop this property as a retail center for 14 years. The Johnson market area already has a larger Wal-Mart supercenter in Vestal, which is only a five minute drive from Johnson City. A citizen's group, the Coalition for Positive Revitalization for Johnson City (CPR4JC), fought the proposal. The village board gave Newman a special permit to use industrial land for retail, and then the village planning board approved the site plan -- which they did unanimously as reported on October 26, 2007. "The process up until now has been very thorough and exhaustive, say nothing of exhausting," Newman's attorney told Channel 10 News. "We're pleased to get this final vote of approval from the village planning board." The CPR4JC emailed a report to Sprawl-Busters after the Planning Board vote: "The Johnson City Mayor and Board of trustees voted on a resolution, Oct 16th, to issue a special permit to allow Wal-Mart to build and do business in an industrial zone. The public comment period, prior to this vote, was cut short. The Mayor asked that only new information and arguments be presented. Those who spoke with valid concerns and questions were not given any concrete answers. Our feeling is that there was much bias from the start of this proposal and it continued throughout. Although residents voiced genuine concerns regarding public safety, flood issues and economic concerns -- we never have to date received any concrete, straightforward answers. The Mayor and Board have refused to do any additional, unbiased studies on our behalf. Pro Wal-Mart residents were escorted by employees from the Rochester PR firm, Public Strategy Group. Wal-Mart hired this firm to underhandedly promote the 'Yes' side and influence our media. My personal meeting with the Mayor made me walk away feeling that he cared more about Wal-Mart's interests than his constituents." That activist, Julie Deemie, was so appalled by the Mayor's response, and the passivity of village officials, that she has decided to run for Mayor of Johnson City. This week, Deemie sent the following statement to Sprawl-Busters: "I am a Mayoral candidate in the Village of Johnson City, NY. During the summer and fall of 2007 I, and a group of Johnson City residents who called ourselves CPR4JC, campaigned against a proposal for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Johnson City. I was opposed to having a Wal-Mart built on a gateway property near the entrance to our historic village and within a short walk of our downtown district. I did not feel it was the right fit for the village and would have a devastating affect on the nearby businesses. I was concerned about the Wal-Mart parcel being built up 8 feet in elevation in a flood plain, increasing flood hazard to homes along a nearby creek. Unfortunately we came on board too late and our monetary resources were too lean to win the battle against Wal-Mart. However I gained a lot of knowledge about my local government at that time. Many members of the board have been replaced since then, including the Mayor, who resigned recently 6 months early. After one of the trustees was appointed to the vacant Mayor's position though back door politics, I opted to run against him in this years Sept. 15th primary election. This is a crucial year in the Village of Johnson City. I feel that the Wal-Mart battle was a practice run for what we are now facing. Approximately one month after Wal-Mart's approval, a Mayoral appointed committee began developing a plan to dissolve our village. The dissolution process was initiated by petition from a separate resident group who gathered the signatures using deceptive practices. The Dissolution Plan will be put to referendum vote in this November's general election. If this plan passes by majority vote our local government will cease to exist. The committee and their hired Rochester area consultant have not been entirely unbiased and honest. Hearing the consultant use terms such as "public perception masks" and seeing many holes and misconceptions in the written dissolution plan have led to my opinion. As a result of witnessing many injustices in my community, seeing the way that those in power try to manipulate our residents for their own agendas, I decided I needed to step forward into the Mayoral race. One of my key issues is to develop and implement a downtown revitalization plan by engaging our local resident's strengths and desires to reconnect. For many years their voices have fallen on deaf ears. I plan to rid the village of its urban blight by aggressively marketing the area to unique and interesting small businesses. I also plan to capitalize on our rich industrial history by encouraging visitors to come see and hear our story. Many of the Johnson City residents see both Wal-Mart and Dissolution as their "savior". I'm working diligently in my campaign to speak with residents and explain to them that with new management there is hope for real and lasting improvements to our village, that we need not give up our local government or sell out to big box retail to pull ourselves back to a thriving successful village. I sincerely hope that I can win this election and ask that the people of Johnson City will give me the opportunity to serve them."

What you can do: Weeks before the Wal-Mart vote in 2007, then-Mayor Harry G. Lewis told the media, "We look forward to having Wal-Mart and its employees become a part of our community." This project was so wired you could see the plugs. As Deemie wrote just after the vote, " I feel that the developer, Marc Newman, had a heavy hand in the outcome of this vote. He stayed after the village board vote of 4 to 1, to reprimand the one trustee who voted no. The Mayor and other "yes" trustees looked very downcast as they placed their yes votes. This struck me as odd. It seemed like they may have been forced to do this. Then the planning board members all voted yes to approve the site plans on Tuesday Oct. 23rd. Again the opposition, including myself, addressed flooding, traffic, and site clean up concerns. Again our voices were not enough to influence the outcome. Marc Newman and Bergman Associates would not answer our questions they just kept referring us to get the answers, from the reports, through public information. Again the PR firm was represented, sitting between the two loudest pro Wal-Mart resident voices." Wal-Mart and Newman Development spent a lot of money to get their way in this village, including the now-standard practice of hiring a public relations firm to line up supporters. Ironically, residents in Johnson City report that the groundwork for the Wal-Mart supercenter is complete, right down to the striping of the parking lot, landscaping, fencing, curbs, and Wal-Mart highway sign. But as of today, construction work on the building itself has not yet started. Julie Deemie could be elected Mayor before Wal-Mart gets its building up. Wal-Mart will be closely watching next month's election, and Deemie should closely watch her opponent's list of contributors. Readers who wish to help Julie Deemie in her run for Mayor, can email her at trustjulie4jc@yahoo.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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