When Amazon announced it pulled out of its plan to build its HQ2 campus in Long Island City following a flood of opposition from city and state officials, two politicians bore the brunt of criticism from some longtime supporters.
Two prominent business owners in the neighborhood expressed their disappointment with state Senator Michael Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, two of the fiercest opponents of the deal.
“I supported both those guys and now I feel maybe part of this is my fault for doing so,” John Brown Smokehouse owner Josh Bowen said. “These guys made made a GOP talking point come to life in technicolor. Mike and Jimmy are going to pay dearly for that.”
Bowen heckled Van Bramer during his press conference after Amazon announced it was walking away from the project in which the e-commerce giant agreed to create 25,000 jobs in return for nearly $3 billion in state and city tax incentives. Van Bramer and Gianaris led the opposition, calling the deal an unprecedented act of corporate welfare.
This week, Bowen, created a Twitter account called @JimmyVanJobKiller while an unknown Long Island City small business owner started a website called DefeatGianaris.com calling on volunteers to run primary campaigns against the senator.
“Jimmy is term limited but Mike is as dead as disco,” Bowen said. “Show me where in the history of New York City anyone took $27 billion and 25,000 jobs and just threw it in the garbage can.”
Van Bramer defended his position.
“We were never against jobs. But we fought for values we believe in,” Van Bramer said. “The City Council was bypassed altogether so we didn’t even have the power to kill it. What we did was talk about the overly generous subsidy, the company’s anti-union stance and other serious concerns. That wasn’t just my right, it was my obligation.”
Gianaris also struck a conciliatory tone with his constituents.
“I have great respect for local residents and businesses who may reasonably disagree on this issue, but I was motivated to act in the best interests of a community already suffering from a housing crisis, subway meltdown and school overcrowding,” he said. “The Amazon plan did not adequately address any of these issues, and would have undoubtedly worsened the quality of life for western Queens.”
Coffeed owner Frank “Turtle” Raffaele, another long-term supporter of the embattled elected officials, said Amazon’s departure is the worst thing to happen since Walter O’Malley moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. But he is optimistic that the company might return to the neighborhood, just not on such a huge scale.
“I believe this Amazon deal would have been the single best thing to have ever happened to Queens and I can’t conceive of a notion were you chase away that many jobs, especially tech jobs,” Raffaele said. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that we can somehow rally together and resurrect this deal.”
Raffaele staffs his four Coffeed locations in western Queens with residents of underemployed communities, including NYCHA developments.
“The fact that NYCHA residents have been overwhelmingly supportive of Amazon is indicative of the incredible potential this deal would have meant for the borough, especially for the less fortunate among us,” he said. “Hopefully we can find a way to salvage this.”