The ink is barely dry on the secret agreement that will soon bring Amazon to Long Island City, but some New Yorkers are already working to crush the deal.
On Wednesday afternoon, one day after the news was officially confirmed, a broad coalition of lawmakers, activist groups and outraged locals gathered in the neighborhood to voice their staunch opposition. Some said they'd do whatever it takes to chase out the sprawling tech campus, while others vowed revenge on the "three men in the room" who privately orchestrated the move—Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
"We're going to tell Amazon to take that welcome mat, roll it back, put it back in the package and send it back to Seattle," said State Senator Michael Gianaris, who represents Western Queens. "The state and city should be embarrassed. They got taken, plain and simple."
In the view of the mayor and governor, the worthiness of the deal—an estimated 25,000 jobs in exchange for upwards of $2.5 billion in taxpayer-funded incentives—should be self-evident. During a swaggering press conference on Tuesday, Cuomo insisted that "it costs nothing" to bring Amazon to New York, and de Blasio repeatedly emphasized that the lives of local residents, including the 6,000 NYCHA tenants living in the Queensbridge Houses, would only be improved by the presence of the retail giant.
But longtime residents of Long Island City are far less optimistic. "It's pure bullshit. They're never going to hire us for these jobs," Raymond Normandeau, a resident of Queensbridge Houses since 1973, told Gothamist. "Only a country bumpkin like de Blasio or Cuomo would believe this shit."
Normandeau contends the promised workforce development and technology training programs provided by Amazon—the supposed award for low-income residents—doesn't sound much different than what's already offered at the local library. Amazon's resources would be better spent on maintenance work for the city's public housing stock, he said, including the Queensbridge Houses, where some residents are currently without heat or hot water.
"Amazon is running a reality show to see which city will dive fastest to the bottom of the barrel," Normandeau added. "New York City lost, and de Blasio and Cuomo think they won."
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) November 14, 2018
According to Queens College student Enrique Peña, the promise of career opportunities rings especially hollow in light of the Cuomo's continued refusal to sign legislation funding the state's public universities. "We are being let down by the promise of jobs that will ignore us in favor of wealthy, white graduates," he said, to loud agreement from other rally-goers. "We're denying education funding to hardworking New Yorkers, so why are we giving a huge tax break to the wealthiest man on Earth?"
A parade of progressive officials also took issue with Amazon bypassing the standard land-use review process normally overseen by the City Council. Instead, the deal made use of a state-led General Project Plan—an approach used in other controversial developments like Atlantic Yards and Brooklyn Bridge Park. In response, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the district, promised an upcoming council hearing on the runaround, while Councilman Brad Lander vowed to introduce legislation barring private companies from forcing city officials to sign non-disclosure agreements—an "assault on Democracy," as he put.
But beyond raising their voices about process concerns, it's unclear what local elected officials could realistically do to prevent the trillion dollar company from setting up shop in Queens. It's also not clear if they actually want that, or if they're just looking to play a role in guiding the details of the project. (Somewhat awkwardly, many of the officials in attendance, including Van Bramer and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, signed a letter last year urging Amazon to consider New York City for its headquarters).
After the rally, Gianaris told Gothamist that if Amazon wanted to "have a conversation about subsidizing Long Island City to accommodate all these people, and no public subsidies, I'm willing to have that conversation." Today, the NY Times looks at how the Amazon plan could meet resistance at the state level, primarily with the obscure five-member Public Authority Control Board, through which the Assembly speaker and the Senate leader have veto power.
$1.2 billion to lure a company that exploits working people and destroys organized labor. This is #debezosnewyork
— Melissa MarkViverito (@MMViverito) November 14, 2018
That's a far cry from the current approach taken by the borough's labor unions and advocacy groups, who seem unified in their demand there be no LIC HQ2, regardless of the specifics of the deal.
Their reasons for that opposition, laid out over and over again at Wednesday's rally, are myriad: Daniel Gross, the executive director of Brandworkers, warned that Amazon's arrival—subsidized or not—would decimate Long Island City's thriving food manufacturing industry; Deborah Axt of Make the Road framed the deal as a humanitarian issue for New Yorkers, citing Amazon's aiding of ICE deportations; and Jonathan Westin, executive director of NY Communities for Change, warned of skyrocketing housing costs, and noted that the company once threatened a capital strike if Seattle passed a small tax on businesses to help the homeless.
But longtime neighborhood group Queens Barrios was perhaps most direct. "We will not negotiate our survival and we'll do everything in our power to shut them down," the group said in a statement. "We will make it impossible for them. We will target the politicians, the individuals, the institutions, the organizations and whoever else had the power to stop this deal."
Video by Jennifer Hsu.