Two Queens lawmakers slam Amazon community advisory council as a ‘fait accompli’ farce

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris speak at a Nov. 14 rally against the Amazon second headquarters project in Long Island City.
Photo by Walter Karling

The two biggest Queens opponents of Amazon’s deal with the state and city to establish part of its second corporate headquarters in Long Island City have declined to join a special panel focused on the project.

State Senator Michael Gianaris and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer who represent the neighborhood, are refusing the state’s invitation to join a community advisory committee which will play a role in planning for Amazon’s HQ2 campus around Anable Basin while having no veto power.

“This community advisory council is a thinly veiled attempt to present the Amazon development as a fait accompli and move the discussion towards how to accommodate their entrance to the community,” they said in a statement. “As we made abundantly, we oppose the deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City and continue to fight against it. We will not participate in the Community Advisory Council, whose purpose is to give local validation to a project we are working to stop in its tracks.”

Amazon has committed to creating 25,000 full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $150,000 in the next ten years while investing $2.5 billion to build the 4 million square feet of office space in partnerships with TF Cornerstone and Plaxall with the possibility of expanding the space to 8 million square feet and 40,000 jobs. Amazon will receive benefits of up to $1.7 billion from New York State and $1.3 billion from New York City.

Gianaris and Van Bramer denounced the deal and expressed their outrage that the trillion-dollar e-commerce retailer will receive billions in subsidies during a Nov. 14 rally in Long Island City the day after the announcement. They declared their opposition to the deal before it was announced.

“Our subways are crumbling, our children lack school seats, and too many neighbors lack adequate health care,” they said in a joint statement on Nov. 13. “It is unfathomable that we would sign a $3 billion check to Amazon in the face of these challenges.”

On Nov. 19, Gianaris announced he would introduce legislation to prevent state agencies and the government from entering non-disclosure agreements at the insistence of private corporations engaging in economic development talks.

Van Bramer and Gianaris were also outraged that the Cuomo administration would bypass the City Council and the community review process by creating a general project plan like it did at Atlantic Yards and the World Trade Center.

“This deal will be bad for western Queens,” Gianaris and Van Bramer said in an online petition at Move.org. “Amazon has a long history of being anti-union, underpaying its workers, and preying on local small businesses. We cannot allow long-time residents of Long Island City and the surrounding neighborhoods of Woodside, Astoria, and Sunnyside to be driven out by rising rents and congested transit. The community should not be excluded from this process.”

More than 350 people had signed the petition by Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined the fight Tweeting that Amazon and other large corporations do not need corporate welfare and instead should pay their fair share of taxes.

“We must end the race to the bottom where taxpayers in one city or state are forced to bid against each other for desperately needed jobs,” Sanders wrote. “This is what the rigged economy is all about. The rich get richer, and everyone else becomes poorer.”

Gianaris thanked Sanders for his support.

“Bernie Sanders is a proven champion for working people and his support in this fight is critical,” Gianaris said. “Amazon does not need $3 billion in subsidies, which can be better spent on real needs in our community. The fight continues!”