In Turkey Fight, Kroger Should Have Asked: "Which Dickens Character Are We?"
Did you ever wonder why Tiny Tim's the one who's always laughing?
Let me make sure I've got this right. The Dallas City Council, local grocery chains and the Texas Retailers Association go at it for two years about a plastic bag ban. Last March at the end of a long, agonizing process, the council passes a deeply compromised ordinance that doesn't ban plastic bags but does put a 5-cent tax on all bags, plastic or paper.
The grocery stores ain't happy with the outcome. They try to end-run the city with an appeal to the Texas attorney general. The AG sends them back a very mixed message. He says the bag tax is probably illegal, but his opinion is not binding on Dallas. But he also says a total ban would be legal.
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City Council member and anti-bagger Dwaine Caraway says if the grocers sue the city on the bag tax he'll go for a total ban. So the grocers agree to take what they've got and promise not to sue anybody over it.
Love it, hate it, whatever you think, this is over. The ref counted to ten 10 held up Caraway's glove. On January 1 of next year, the new law goes into effect.
More than anybody else, the guy most identified with the grocers in all this was Gary Huddleston, media spokesman for the Kroger Co. in the Southwest. He was the main spear-carrier for the grocers and other retailers. So you know what you do when the fight is over and you lost, right? The ring is empty. The crowds have left the hall. This one's in the history books.
You grin and bear it. Smile for the lone camera that still wants a picture of you. Keep your chin up. Congratulate the other guy. Then maybe you go home, lock the door, kick the dog, curl into a fetal position under the bed and sob like a baby. But ... you ... don't ... show. C'mon. That's not how the West was won.
You know why I'm talking about this, right? Last week we learned that Kroger, which had been contributing turkeys for several years to a Thanksgiving Day giveaway for the needy run by Caraway, told Caraway he wasn't getting any more turkeys from them this year. And it was Huddleston who sent the email. He even admitted to Robert Wilonsky at The Dallas Morning News that going all Scrooge on Caraway was his idea and it was because of the bag thing.
I don't know how anybody else feels, but I'm embarrassed. This is just ... embarrassing. And I'm not talking about plastic bags, either. Screw plastic bags. I'm talking about ... well, honor, I think.
To be fair: I talked to Huddleston yesterday, and he said it wasn't about plastic bags for him, either. Not really. He said that after the council vote and after the AG ruling, he asked for additional meetings with Caraway, and Caraway wouldn't meet with him. Huddleston did not use these words, but I will interpret what he said for you in my own language as meaning, "That just pissed me off."
I get that. People piss me off, too. A lot. And I'm not here to tell you that my own behavior, when pissed off, is totally George Washingtonly dignified. But I didn't really have to tell you that, did I?
Caraway, when I spoke to him yesterday, volunteered without my asking that he had declined to meet with Huddleston after the council vote. His version was that Huddleston and the retailers were given every opportunity to plead their case with the council: "We met, and we met, and we met, on every level. We met with the grocers, with the retailers, with the people against it, people for it. I can't tell you the number of meetings. Everything was open and transparent."
After all that when things didn't go the grocers' way, Caraway considered it dirty pool for them to run to the AG to try to derail the whole process. He was pissed off, too. Therefore, after the final bell rang and he won, he said he didn't see any future in meeting with these guys again.
I know, I know. That's not the perfect answer. Turning your back on a citizen, slamming the door on a major taxpayer and a company that generously sponsors many other City Hall initiatives is not cool. I get that. Everbody's pissed off here. Nobody's totally cool. But Kroger showed. And Kroger lost. By turning Caraway down for the turkey giveaway, they made themselves look like 7-year-olds taking their ball and running home to the apron strings (and let's not go too deep into that metaphor).
When I first saw Stephen Young's piece here last week, I laughed ruefully and thought, "Oh, no, did somebody really think they were going to get up around the corner on Dwaine Caraway in a public relations battle?"
Caraway didn't show. He told me he wound up with more turkeys to give to the hungry than he's ever had before. I believe him. And now Huddleston's got to spend the rest of the holidays peeking through the blinds keeping a lookout for the ghost of Christmas past.
See also: Dwaine Caraway Trolls Kroger
Maybe that's the best public relations takeaway in all this. Call it the Dickens principle. If you are about to take action in a public relations dilemma, try to imagine which character in A Christmas Carol you would be.
And now may we all shed a silent tear and say a prayer for poor mistreated little Tiny Dwaine.