Protesters and local politicians vowed they’d “march forever,” if the terms of Amazon’s deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to build a second headquarters in Long Island City aren’t walked back.
Dozens of protesters draped in rain ponchos and shielded with umbrellas gathered in the pouring rain in Court Square Tuesday evening chanting, “in the rain and in the snow, Amazon has got to go.”
Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Jimmy Van Bramer rallied the crowd, along with the former City Council speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein and Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who led the group in a chant of “Bullshit.”
“This mayor needs to step up and say, ‘I made a mistake and go back to the table,’” said Councilman Jumaane Williams. Or else, he warned, “it will be a stain on his legacy.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City, took issue with what he saw as one of the worst parts of the deal—a $505 million cash grant from the state for Amazon to build the headquarters.
“Jeff Bezos is rich enough to build any building he wants to build. Why are we giving him $500 million dollars in cash grants?... That’s outrageous,” he said, adding, “We will march forever until we get what we deserve.”
.@JumaaneWilliams says this is the “worst deal I’ve seen in 10 years on the council,” he says it will be a “stain” on the mayors legacy. “We are not going to stand by while you shove this down our throats.” pic.twitter.com/oYYuC7UljE
— Gwynne Hogan (@GwynneFitz) November 26, 2018
Beyond the $505 million in a cash grant from the state, Amazon will get $1.2 billion in tax credits off wages for employees and won’t have to pay property taxes—instead putting half of that money toward an infrastructure fund for the surrounding area. Amazon will also be eligible for additional tax breaks at the federal level because the area is a designated "Opportunity Zone." (Not to mention all of the city subsidies that could be worth as much as $1 billion).)
De Blasio and Cuomo insist the deal will create more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, more than $4 billion in state tax revenue, and 13.5 billion in city tax revenue. But other local leaders say the state has too much control over the scope of the project, and the city too little oversight. In its current form, the state will take control of all of the waterfront property for the project, bypassing the City Council.
On Monday, in his weekly appearance on NY1, de Blasio was asked if he planned to “steamroll over the Amazon pushback,” or whether there was a chance the deal could still be killed.
“I believe that the merits are overwhelmingly clear and that the pathway to get this done is straightforward,” the mayor replied. “I think you’re going to see critique, I think you’re going to see oversight, but I believe it will move forward.”
All of the City Council representatives at Tuesday’s rally had signed onto a letter sent to Amazon last year supporting a headquarters in New York City, but say that wasn’t an open invitation for corporate handouts or to circumvent the city’s complex land-use laws intended to allow communities and local representatives to get some input before any major development occurs.
“We heard nothing from this mayor until a couple of weeks ago and what we heard was a freaking helipad, $3 billion, and you’ve given away all the power of this city,” Williams shouted to a jeering crowd. “I do not understand [why] the mayor..[would] lay down and let the Governor walk all over us.”
Protesters and activists were angry about being cut out of negotiations and voiced fears about surging cost of living, overcrowding on transit and infrastructure and about increasing development in a flood-prone area.
“It seems pretty corrupt,” said Sunnyside resident Morry Galonoy, who declined to give his age. “This is a government by, of, and for the people, supposedly, and I believe the mayor and the governor usurped the power of the people.”
A musician and teacher Ernie Brooks, 69, who said he had lived in Long Island City for decades just across from the Amazon site, painted a bleak picture.
“It’ll just be luxury towers staring at each other and the only thing that’ll exist on the street will be microbreweries.”
In an email, de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said, "We look forward to what 25,000 new jobs will mean for local residents of all backgrounds."