‘You can’t speak for us’: Astoria & Long Island City residents blast opponents of Amazon HQ proposal

Photo: Mark Hallum

Bishop Mitchell Taylor and Queensbridge residents rallied on Monday to support employment opportunities that the online retail giant could possibly provide to Long Island City and beyond.

Taylor told reporters that negativity from opponents of the proposal does not represent the wants or needs of NYCHA residents or the involvement of their leaders in discussions about Amazon coming to their community. But more than anything, they spoke out against perceived outsiders stoking discontent within the confines of the housing complex.

“I’m incensed when I see people from Connecticut, from other boroughs, from other places, convene upon Queensbridge, knocking on doors telling people because of Amazon, because of this, you’re going to lose your apartment,” Taylor said. “Let me tell you something: if you’re concerned about gentrification, that happened 15 years ago … You cannot speak for us. You haven’t lived here.”

Taylor’s roots in Queensbridge go deep with his father, also a pastor, first serving a northwest Queens congregation in 1960 and Taylor himself leading worship for 28 years. He is a founder of Urban Upbound, an organization which works to break cycles that keep families in poverty and serves on the Community Advisory Committee for the implementation of Amazon.

“We are negotiating. We are talking. We are trying to figure out what is the best possible outcome for the residents of northwestern Queens and New York City,” Taylor said. “Twenty-five thousand jobs, possibly 40,000 jobs coming to this neighborhood and we want to know how that’s going to happen, how that’s going to benefit our residents. Nobody is cutting any deals here.”

The bishop challenged the protests of Donnelly Rodriquez, who spoke out during the rally that 400 people had signed a petition against Amazon over the weekend.

“It’s amazing to me how people like this don’t even live here and they want to come to a press conference that we’re trying to have peacefully and they want to heckle,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to allow that to deter us. These people don’t live here. They aren’t from here. They probably moved here two days ago.”

Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association and a resident of 60 years, claimed there had been misinformation circulated through the NYCHA complex in an effort to “stir up” residents against Amazon, but that it was her job as a community leader to dispel rumors and hype.

“One of the things that bothers me the most, is that people do not have the correct information to take into the community or they come in to stir up people and force accusations, we’re not going to stand for that,” Coger said. “You should not go into a community and tell people they’re going to lose their homes unless you have documentation. We need to stop that nonsense now.”

April Simpson, the president of Queensbridge Tenants Association, said she was born in her parent’s bed in the NYCHA development she still calls home after 57 years.

“I’m not going to allow anyone to come into my community and disrupt and deny them the opportunity for a better life,” she said. “I don’t want to hear from hecklers who came over here like sneaky thieves in the night over the weekend without the courtesy to lets us know they were coming. That’s disrespectful. The information that is being provided is wrong, we’ve been sitting at the table since day one. We’ve been representing our community for years so what makes you think we’re still not going to represent them today with Amazon.”

Elizabeth Lusskin, the president of the Long Island City Partnership, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney also spoke in favor of Amazon at the rally while a small group of detractors booed.

“We face probably the most important economic decision in generations for our city,” Maloney said. “What the residents of this community are telling me is that they want jobs. They want training. They want opportunity.”

Rodriguez did not back down from his opposition to Amazon HQ2 in Queens following the rally.

“I think Amazon does not care about Queens. Amazon does not care about Queensbridge and they don’t care about Astoria. They’re here to profit,” said Rodriguez, who said he was born and raised in Astoria. “I think the support here is misinformed.”