A barbecue pit master is turning up the heat on Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in an ongoing feud over Amazon ditching its plan to build an HQ2 campus in Long Island City.
John Brown Smokehouse owner Josh Bowen is suing Van Bramer in a defamation lawsuit filed Monday claiming the councilman had violated his First Amendment rights by “inaccurately and improperly characterizing” his protected political speech as “criminal actions to the press and on social media.”
The imbroglio began on Feb. 24 when Bowen, who was “stunned and dismayed” to learn that the actions of Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris had been instrumental in driving Amazon out of Long Island City, with its promise to create 25,000 jobs, flew to Seattle to meet with several top executives of the corporation hoping they would reconsider.
After returning to Queens, Bowen exchanged texts with Matthew Wallace, Van Bramer’s chief of staff, and demanded they call the Amazon executive and apologize.
“You can be at the back of the parade or in front of a firing squad,” Bowen texted. “If they don’t, you’re in the history books.”
The lawsuit alleges Van Bramer posted “cropped copies of the text on his own Twitter account” so that it appeared that Bowen’s texts had been sent to him rather than to Wallace, and then “encouraged his followers to boycott Bowen’s business.”
The suit further alleges Van Bramer filed criminal charges against Bowen “in order to distract from the growing criticism of Van Bramer’s own actions in driving Amazon out of New York,” and “did not disclose to the police that the Wallace/Bowen texts” had not been sent to him.
“My chief of staff received an aggressive text message directed to me from Mr. Bowen, which I perceived to be threatening. I still do,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “I posted a screenshot of his words on social media and notified law enforcement, so they were aware of the situation. This lawsuit filed against me is frivolous, without merit, and riddled with inaccuracies. The Office of General Council is currently reviewing this.”
No charges were filed against Bowen and his lawsuit seeks $50,000-plus in damages for abuse of process and defamation.
“Jimmy went to the police and filed a complaint against his own constituent exercising his First Amendment rights,” Bowen’s attorney Jeannine Chanes said. “He knew it wasn’t a threat. He tried to undercut Josh’s platform and he seriously underestimated him.”
“This is real,” Bowen said. “He’s trying to mess with my business. He wants to play checkers and I’m playing muay thai.”