The second round of the City Hall battle between proponents and detractors of the Amazon HQ2 plan in Long Island City saw the neighborhood’s City Council voice, city officials and retail representatives clash over how and why the deal was done.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris took to the steps of City Hall Wednesday with community organizations, labor leaders and Queens residents to rally against the state and city’s deal to bring Amazon’s HQ2 campus to Long Island City for a package of incentives and tax abatements worth nearly $3 billion.
Afterwards, Van Bramer took his seat on the Council’s Finance Committee for the second Amazon oversight hearing on the deal “to examine whether the city is getting a good bang for its buck,” according to City Councilman Daniel Dromm, the chair of the committee.
“At a time when we should all be concerned with income inequality, we are confronted by a deal that literally takes billions in hard earned tax dollars paid by janitors, teaches and bus drivers only to give it to a man worth $160 billion,” Van Bramer said of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. “And yet we often hear there isn’t enough money for mass transit, schools, libraries and parks. This Amazon debacle must be an inflection point in our society. Where we reign in corporate welfare and the billionaire class and give more power to the people who have the least in our world.”
Once again, it was up to James Patchett, the president and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, to defend the city’s role in the deal.
“For New Yorkers, the exponential return on investment — putting in zero discretionary benefits and getting over $13.5 billion in return — will have a profound ripple effect,” Patchett said. “Moreover, the billions in tax revenue will pay tremendous dividends to our public institutions; with this windfall, the city will be able to hire more police officers, build more schools and improve social services like medical care and disability services.”
Patchett explained the $13.5 billion of additional tax revenue could pay for every single three-year-old in the city to attend 3-K for All for the next 16 years, or the revenue could support 289,000 units of affordable housing or the revenue could hire 5,600 new public-school teachers with a bachelor’s degree to work for the next 25 years, or employ 6,300 firefighters for the next quarter century.
Amazon sent Brian Huseman, its vice president for public policy, to reiterate that the corporation will create 25,000 new jobs over ten years, with an average annual salary of more than $150,000, jobs with full benefits.
“Today, we are announcing that we are beginning a program to hire NYCHA residents for jobs in our award-winning customer service department,” Huseman said. “This program is not only good for Long Island City and NYCHA residents, but it’s good for Amazon, and we’re excited to access this terrific talent pool.”
Huseman then announced that Amazon has teamed up with LaGuardia Community College, CUNY and SUNY to launch a pathway to employment in cloud computing jobs. The new initiative is expected to be available in fall 2019 to the tens of thousands of students who attend those schools.
“LaGuardia’s students represent a singularly unique talent pipeline for Amazon — they have a diversity of life experiences that have prepared them to contribute to and develop the next-generation of consumer and enterprise technologies,” LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow said. “We will work closely with our community, including Queensbridge public housing residents and organization such as Urban Upbound, to secure funding for this program.”
But Van Bramer is not buying into Amazon’s latest charm campaign, specifically the glossy mailers that have gone out to Queens resident in the last few weeks. The last round urged constituents to call Van Bramer and Gianaris’ district offices and tell them to drop their opposition to the deal.
“Amazon is apparently spending millions on these flyers,” Van Bramer said. “My advice to you, on behalf of my constituents, is stop sending them. They are not working. Opposition is only growing. 2:1 my constituents have called telling me to keep fighting this deal. So that is what I will do. You may have millions of dollars to waste on these flyers, but the hardworking people of New York do not. Stop sending them! Save some trees! And stop the B.S.”