It’s become commonplace for big retailers to create local “astro-turf” citizen’s groups, designed to look and sound like “grass-roots”, but be entirely financed and directed by corporate minions. In Northfield, MN (see 8/16/98 entry below) the “citizens” group actually used Target’s logo in their election ads for a slate of 3 candidates for the City Council. In one large newspaper ad, the “Citizens for Target” used the Target bullseye logo in their text, asking voters to mark the ballot for 3 candidates pledged to back the Target store proposed for Northfield. The Citizens for Target claimed the new store would make the town a regional retail center, add to the tax base and help pay for new schools and a recreation center, and bring “more, quality employment” to Northfield. The Target logo, which is a trademark of the corporation, was used prominently in the advertising campaign. Target reported told the group not to continue using the logo, but the elections were already concluded. Two pro-Target candidates won, one anti-Target candidate won. This puts the City Council in a strange position. The Council candidates who ran in support or against a Target specifically are clearly prejudiced one way or another, and cannot objectively consider the facts in the case, and should recuse themselves. The Citizens for Target are also promoting a new overlay zone, a Planned Development Zone that would allow big box stores to be constructed in a special area 3 miles outside of town — a special “sprawl zone”. But first the city must change its Comprehensive Plan. The city’s Planning Commission recently voted not to make piecmeal changes to the plan, but to review the entire document. This means the City Council may have to overrule its own Planning Commission to create any new zones, and do so with s 2/3rds supermajority vote. Citizens opposed to the Target store have vowed to take such a move by the Council to a public referendum. Whatever the result, the corporate involvement by Target in public zoning issues in Northfield has become unusually overt and visible.
What will the new Governor of Minnesota think of large corporations getting involved in determining the outcome of local elections? One thing is certain, Target has certainly decided to go to the mat in Northfield, and leave the community wrestling with the results. “This used to be a harmonious community,” one resident wrote me, noting that the dissention is “all for better shopping…” For further information about Target’s foray into election politics in Northfield, contact Steph Henriksen at 507-645-7086.