Nov. 14, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A slew of politicians and advocacy groups took to Long Island City today to say ‘no to Amazon’ in a rally that ultimately revealed divisions among local electeds about the e-commerce giant’s presence in the neighborhood.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris, the two electeds who represent the district where Amazon intends to build its massive campus, once again came out strong in today’s protest against the “bad deal” the company struck with the city and state, but were split on whether Amazon should be in Long Island City—period.
The pair had once shown enthusiasm for the project in a letter sent to Amazon last year, shortly after the company announced its search for a second headquarters location. They are now the most prominent and central voices against the Amazon deal, releasing scathing joint statements about the plan in the days leading up to the company’s official announcement on Tuesday.
The two have since bashed the billions in tax-payer subsidies Amazon is set to receive as part of the deal, in light of critical infrastructure and other pressing needs that could use the funding, and ripped into Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio for effectively shutting them and other officials out of the process.
“Somehow, folks who consider themselves progressive Democrats have seen fit to throw $3 billion at the richest man in the world,” Van Bramer said at the rally, noting that on this cold day, he was “steaming mad.” He added, “We should all be outraged at what has happened here.”
He noted that the nearby Queensbridge Houses, which are due billions in repairs from city government along with other NYCHA developments, had no heat or hot water this morning, adding insult to injury in a deal that also brings with it a helipad for Amazon.
Gianaris, meanwhile, said the deal is bad news all around, and effectively called for a boycott of Amazon. He noted that he has since deleted the Amazon app from his phone, and vowed to no longer purchase from the company.
“We are here to say to Amazon—take that welcome mat that was rolled out for you yesterday, put it back in the package it came in, and send it back to Seattle where it belongs,” he said.
Both, however, have revealed different bottom lines when it comes to Amazon being in the area.
When asked by reporters if the rally was either meant to denounce the hush-hush deal and subsidies, or the general presence of the company in Long Island City, Gianaris said, “it’s about a lot of things.”
He did not, however, necessarily signal a full rejection of the company in the area.
“If Amazon wants to come here, they should be talking about subsidizing Long Island City, not squeezing subsidies out of New York State and New York City,” he said.
When asked by the LIC Post to clarify his stance on the company, Gianaris said he is for jobs and employment in the community, but not if it means paying to get them.
“If they want to come here, get rid of public subsidy, and then start a conversation about what they’re going to do to help the neighborhood handle the influx of people,” he said. “That’s the starting point.”
Van Bramer, on the other hand, is completely opposed to the Seattle-based company setting up shop in his district. Questions about being open to working out a new deal with Amazon were met with a simple, unequivocal, “no.”
He later affirmed to the LIC Post that there was nothing the company could do to receive his blessing. “End of story,” he said.
Beyond the two Long Island City legislators, thoughts on the company in Queens were also without consensus among the coalition of electeds and nonprofits at the ‘No to Amazon’ rally.
Some clearly opposed Amazon in New York City in general, while others appeared willing to entertain the idea if some conditions were met.
Council Member Costa Constantinides, who represents the neighboring Astoria, said many parts of Amazon’s deal are still under wraps, and compared the process to the popular children’s tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
“We got a bunch of magic beans, but we don’t know what it is,” he said.
Constantinides noted, however, that Amazon should take back the deal and start again.
Naureen Akhter, director of organizing for Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said her office unequivocally opposes the development.
“Our infrastructure cant handle it, our real estate market can’t handle it,” she said. “We’re here to stand in solidarity with every community group and elected official who had the backbone to say no to Amazon in Queens.”
All, however, denounced the city, state and Amazon in their actions to bring the company to the area.
“Let’s throw the deal in the garbage,” Gianaris said. “We all agree on that.”
Van Bramer said he and the City Council are set to meet on the matter and discuss next steps, which could include drafting legislation, legal suits, and other measures to make Amazon feel the fight it is up against.
Amazon, in its memorandum of agreement with the city and state, is set to build a campus potentially spanning up to 8 million square feet around Anable Basin, just a few short blocks from where today’s rally was held, and bring around 25,000 jobs over the course of 10 years.
The company is also expected to build out public space, artists work studios, a school and manufacturing space as part of the deal with the city and state.
While the new headquarters were met with opposition before Amazon made its official announcement yesterday, some electeds and local leaders are enthusiastic about the plan.
Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who were part of negotiations with Amazon, said the deal is historic for New York and is sure to deliver on promises to drive economic growth.
Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, who has consistently expressed opposition to large-scale developments in the district and even recently demanded a moratorium on new buildings in the area, said Long Island City is once again poised to be the most successful mixed use neighborhood in New York with the Amazon deal.
Other supporters include Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, the LIC Partnership and LaGuardia Community College. Pursuit, the Long Island City-based nonprofit that trains low-income New Yorkers for tech jobs, is also enthusiastic about Amazon’s plans, along with local real estate companies like Rockrose and Modern Spaces.
Amazon will be temporarily occupying 1 million square feet at One Court Square as the buildout at Anable Basin happens, a company spokesperson said to the LIC Post.