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State Budget Director Pens Open Letter Blaming Unions, Local Pols for Amazon HQ2 Demise

Prop boxes at the “Say No to Amazon” rally on Nov. 14, one day after the company officially selected Long Island City for its campus. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

Feb. 25, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez

The stunning collapse over a week ago of Amazon’s plans to build a Long Island City campus continues to draw reactions from far and wide, with the state’s budget director recently publishing a scathing open letter that claims labor unions and local politicians are at fault for the loss of “the single greatest economic development opportunity we have had.”

Robert Mujica, who has served as the state’s budget director since 2015, released the lengthy letter on Friday afternoon lamenting the “tremendous loss for New Yorkers” in Amazon’s reversal, and singled out the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer among “several factors” that led to the deal’s demise.

In the letter, Mujica even accuses the RWDSU—among the most vocal groups in pushing for Amazon’s workforce of 25,000 at the now-scrapped Anable Basin campus to be unionized—of deploying and paying several community based organizations to oppose the Amazon deal as a negotiation tactic.

“Ironically, much of the visible ‘local’ opposition, which was happy to appear at press conferences and protest at City Council hearings during work hours, were actual organizers paid by one union: RWDSU,” Mujica wrote, adding, “If you are wondering if that is even legal, probably not.”

Mujica’s claim, which comes on the same day Governor Cuomo called the failed Amazon deal “the greatest tragedy I have seen since I’ve been in politics,” was even backed by Cuomo’s office.

“Of course RWDSU funds these groups—and with their paid protestors, they cost their union brothers and sisters in the trades…11,000 union jobs,” reads a statement from a governor spokesperson sent to NY1. The lost jobs are in reference to the construction and building maintenance positions that were negotiated as part of the deal.

RWDSU, in response, rejected Mujica’s premise that the union had employed community groups to protest, and called his letter “deceitful and dishonest.”

“These groups have always stood for our shared principles,” the labor union said, according to reports. “Not everything is transactional.”

The union said the letter attempts to justify a failed process “shrouded in secrecy and…crafted without the input of the countless people who would be directly affected.”

Make the Road New York, one of the groups that organized heavily against the HQ2 deal, also released its own response to Mujica’s accusation.

“In true Trumpian fashion, Andrew Cuomo thinks he can bully his way out of the embarrassment of having New Yorkers forcefully reject his terrible Amazon deal,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of the nonprofit.

Mujica’s Feb. 22 letter also calls out Gianaris and Van Bramer for rejecting the deal after initially signing letters urging for Amazon to select Queens for the buildout. The change, Mujica said, was a result of the two politicians trying to cater to “minor, but vocal local political forces.”

“Both Gianaris and Van Bramer flip-flopped on this position after Long Island City was chosen, distorting the facts of the agreement and mischaracterizing the tac subsidies as ‘a cash giveaway’,” he said. “Now that Amazon has pulled out, local politicians are feeling the backlash from the project’s previously silent supporters and are dissembling.”

State Senator Michael Gianaris at the “No to Amazon” rally on Nov. 14. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

He added that opposing Amazon “was not even good politics,” and that the politicians against the deal “are like the dog that caught the car.”

On the day of the deal’s demise, several politicians, including Van Bramer and Gianaris, all but referred to the news “a victory,” but said Amazon’s choice to leave proved the company “wouldn’t be a good neighbor” and that it opted to go rather than adapt.

Mujica also addressed Gianaris’ appointment to the Public Authorities Control Board, a state body that would review part of the Amazon deal, but could stop the entire project. Gianaris’ appointment, while not confirmed by Cuomo and ultimately dropped by the Senate, raised the stakes in the Amazon chronicles given the veto power each member has.

“Amazon assumed that the hostile appointment doomed the project,” he wrote.

While the majority of budget director’s letter criticizes local politicians and activist groups, Mujica does suggest that the city and state “could have done more to communicate the facts of the project and more aggressively correct the distortions.”

“We assumed the benefits to be evident: 25,000 to 40,000 jobs located in a part of Queens that has not seen any significant commercial development in decades and a giant step forward in the sector, further diversifying our economy away from Wall Street and real estate,” he wrote.

Among the details of the deal that became major points of contention include the nearly $3 billion in performance based subsidies that Amazon would receive if it created the thousands of jobs as planned on its campus. Many politicians treated the subsidy as existing funds that could have been better spent on housing or transportation.

“This is either a blatant untruth or fundamental ignorance of basic math by a group of elected officials,” Mujica wrote.

The letter ends on a note that the state lost $27 billion in revenue, up to 40,000 jobs “and a blow to our reputation of being ‘open for business’.”

“The local politicians that catered to the hyper-political opposition hurt their own government colleagues and the economic interest of every constituent in their district,” Mujica wrote. “The true local residents who actually supported the project and its benefits for their community are badly hurt. Nothing was gained and much was lost. This should never happen again.”

Since Amazon’s Feb. 14 announcement that it would no longer pursue plans for a New York campus, grassroots organizers, politicians and other activists against the project have rejoiced and vowed to continue efforts, while those in favor of the plan—ranging from real estate insiders, local businesses and officials—have either lambasted the same actors or blamed Amazon alone for the lost deal.

Amazon’s departure also means the private and publicly-owned waterfront lots slated for the project are now back on the table. The city had plans to build what it called the Long Island City Innovation Center at the lots, while Plaxall, the plastics manufacturing company, had outlined a massive development at several of its sites that could reach 5,000 apartments over the course of 15 years.

James Patchett, the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, all but indicated that the parcels would see the prior project on site during an event last week, but did not specify if the same plan was in store. The EDC did not respond to questions about development on the lots.

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33 Comments

Oh Governor, you old kidder!

Is there a political trick staler than fraudulently diminishing the opponents’ strength and numbers?

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Possibly

Not saying one word about the plan before the November 6 election, then announcing it on November and trying to make believe that it’s a surprise that constituents are not pleased.

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Mr Kraft

Exactly!! Now lets legalize prostitution and weed to increase job opportunities. Need alot of rub and tug establishments on Vernon Blvd. to increase mattress sales. Weed use will cause an explosion of Bodegas on Jackson Ave in response to hunger cravings. Clear out those lots for more LaQuintas and Holiday Inns to house the homeless and provide workspace for prostitutes. There is so much happening as long as we install more bike lanes and needle distribution locations

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Anonymous

Life marches on in LIC, and there is much to be optimistic about. New projects in the pipeline. Developments in long vacant and underused properties. New businesses forming. What’s everyone so maudlin about? We’ll be fine.

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Anonymous

We will all be reflecting on this for awhile..Omg, NYC actually got DUMPED,like a bride to be at the altar, whose fiancee met all the eccentric relatives the “parents”(Mayor& Governor), tried to keep at arm’s length….That’s what feels so strange here. It is vaguely embarrassing, too, how this was handled: watch the hostile questioning by the Council Speaker. I mean, was that tone really necessary? Makes us look bad… Deep down, perhaps the only “consolation” is that ,really, that crowded area maybe could not handle thousands more people. The 7 train is a disaster NOW, imagine w more..All that infrastructure action has to happen FIRST, before you invite hordes of people..I guess another suitor will come along, but not with as much fanfare..

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Vote Out Van Brammer

If amazon did move into LIC, the vast majority of those employees would probably be living in Manhattan reverse commuting or LIC itself-thus not taking the 7 train into Manhattan during rush hour. It would be nice if NYC could have used those lost billions of dollars in tax revenue towards infrastructure but instead thanks to our job killing politicians, we’ll just have to settle for a worse deal where that parcel of LIC will be turned into more luxury condos.

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Post Emily

Read the comments on the subject over the last month. The invited guests were the potty mouthed rageaholics–not exactly Amazon’s ideal ‘in -laws’.

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Retired Local 3036 organizer

I don’t understand RWDSU. Amazon opens up a warehouse, then RWDSU organizes a union. Sign up employees, have a vote, then you are unionized. It’s not easy but it is legal.That’s labor’s history in the U.S. Better to unionize here in N.Y. than in “right – to work” states like Tennessee. Like Don Corleone said, “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer”

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JRo

As an LIC resident since 2001, I am amazed that we managed to throw away the opportunity to be the epicenter of the tech industry in the city and in the long run, maybe even the country. Amazon would have been followed by a large number of start-ups and established tech companies. While I didn’t think that Amazon deserved the $3B in tax credits/incentive, I always thought it was still a good deal for the city and state and it was the cost of doing business. All our politicians needed to do is make sure that Amazon at least generated half of the tax revenue they promised, to make it a great deal for the city. This could have been a great way to soften the recession that we all know is looming in our economy. I have always voted for JMB but this really makes a no vote from me.

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Leo Zachs

Gianaris is just like the hunchback traitor Ephialtes from the movie 300. He’s always screwed our community!
To all my fellow Greek & Cypriot Americans, we need to vote this guy out. He does not represent us.

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John A.

Never Again! Gianaris, Constantinides and Simotas do not care about the Greek-American community.
Chasing away 25,000 jobs, supporting late term abortions and adding new tolls in Manhattan is not what the majority of us want.

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Mr Tickles

Will someone please tell me when JVB and Ginaris are gonna get working on more homeless shelters, prostitutes, squeegeemen and empty bike lanes in the plaza. The pros and the squeegees can work in the bike lanes and live in the shelters and increase the voter registration for JVB and Gianais. And don’t forget to start building those residential towers where Amazon was to be and make sure to include those 30 year tax abatements to developers. Maybe AOC can get a condo there paid for by your friendly neighborhood taxpayer. Oh boy!!… Almost forgot…gotta go and vote for the most progressive candidate for public advocate…need some needle distribution spots in the area… see ya…Gotta luv a city run by democrats!!!!

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Anonymous

So the governor’s mouthpiece is mouthing the governor’s rationalizations for his tone deaf, days-after-election announcement of his fait accompli–and accusing others of being less than honorable? Surprise surprise.

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LIC Direct

Never again will LIC & NYC have an opportunity like this. With the demise of retail and manufacturing jobs in LIC where will they find another corporation to come in and offer 25,000 direct jobs? Van Bramer you screwed up. You must never hold public office again, we will make sure of that, we will never vote you into office again.

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Robert Mujica gets it

Totally agree with everything Munich states in his letter.

What’s crazy is if Amazon only achieved a fraction of what it said it would do, let’s say 25%, it still would have been a very substantial positive impact for us – many multiples better than the previously proposed Plaxall development.

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Anonymous

Mr. Mujica was appointed by the governor to both of his jobs–which many say conflict. He likes dog analogies and remembers not to bite the hand that feeds him. Good dog.

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35 years in Hunters Point

Quite disingenuous of the author to characterize the project’s supporters as “ranging from real estate insiders, local businesses and officials” without mentioning the many residents who think for themselves, and who consider as well the interests of their neighbors and their borough. I guess that group would be too challenging to label so generically, although they represent a majority in every poll I’ve seen.

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van bramer the spineless weed

I live in Sunnyside and let me tell you Van bramer is not a good neighbor so he has no business talking about Amazon not being a good neighbor

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39th ave

NO to 25,000 JOBS!
YES to Homeless Shelters!
YES to Neighborhood Jails!
Thanks Cortez, Gianaris and Bramer

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anonymous captain

I live in LIC and was interviewed by 1010 wins in Nov and I said, it’s going to be tough on infrastructure, schools and housing, but we have good politicians looking out for us, they’ll manage it. Turns out instead they took the winning lotto ticket, tore it up and threw it back in the face of the person who sold it to them. Rather that take a huge opportunity, that they first voted for, and then manage the challenges, which is their job, they instead ruined it entirely for years to come for everyone. I don’t even know why Cortez was part of this, she’s not our rep its Carolyn Maloney who was radio silent the entire time. It’s not even part of the reps job, its local versus state. I am life long democrat but whoever is running against all of the players- I don’t care, I am definitely voting for them.

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appaled citizen

Not trying to further spread the blame around, but I do take offense at the complacency of our print/digital media in their treatment of this. Case in point: the same (or similarly shot) photos of demonstrations at the site are being used in support of a vast majority of HQ2 related articles, with a camera angle that, while visually pleasing, seem to indicate a tsunami of protesters while other photos show about 30-50 people all told. This is turns empowers Gianaris and others to say that the community was standing behind them, which is an absolute lie.

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Erica

What a shame! 25,000 jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue are gone. I am especially upset with Gianaris for chasing Amazon away without event trying to negotiate a better deal. I read that Amazon tried contacting Giannaris several times but he didn’t want to take the call.
What a shame!

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Luis

Gianaris the JOB KILLER needs to keep certain people dependent on him. Progress will leave him unemployed.

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