Elected officials and union members Wednesday ripped the city and state plan to give Amazon and its megarich owner $3 billion in tax breaks and grants — not to mention a private helipad — in exchange for bringing a new headquarters to Long Island City, Queens.
“It may be cold outside, but I am steaming-mad that the governor and the mayor have decided to throw Jeff Bezos almost $3 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, and throw in a helipad so he doesn’t have to take the damn 7 train,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area that would be home to the headquarters, said.
Van Bramer gathered with about 100 people to protest the deal, which was announced Tuesday by Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo, and noted that Bezos would be landing his whirlybird at a taxpayer-subsidized helipad just a stone’s throw from the Queensbridge Houses, a public housing development.
“We have a public housing crisis. Just this morning, several residents contacted us to say there’s no heat in Queensbridge,” Van Bramer said. “But somehow folks who consider themselves progressive Democrats have seen fit to throw $3 billion to the richest man in the world. That is wrong, and we should all be outraged at what has happened here.”
Protesters held signs mocking the company — “Rent hikes now with two-day shipping,” read one version; another portrayed the company’s smiling box logo with a frown instead.
Van Bramer and other pols also ripped the secrecy of the deal — which will be handled through a state development mechanism that allows it to avoid a vote in the City Council. The city’s Economic Development Corp. signed a nondisclosure agreement with the private company during the negotiations.
“Think about how crazy this is,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said. “A private company forced the government to sign a secrecy agreement and not tell its own people what it was doing with its money. If we had known what was going on six months ago or 10 months ago, we could have stopped this a long time ago.”
While the deal does an end run around both the Council and the state Legislature, Gianaris said they would be exploring options for blocking the headquarters.
“We will go to court if we have to. We will take legislative action if we have to. But they are clearly trying very hard to give the people of New York virtually no say about this whole deal,” he said.
Retail workers — whose industry has been eaten away at by the online retailer — also railed against the agreement, which has been accused of mistreating its nonunionized warehouse workers.
“We believe that our workers deserve to have a voice . . . ,” Camille Rivera, national political director of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “And until Amazon comes to understand that workers rights are the most important rights in the City of New York, the State of New York, the country and globally, we cannot stand still and allow a company to get almost $3 billion.”
Both Gianaris and Van Bramer once signed a letter urging Amazon to come to the city — but said circumstances had changed.
“The real problem with what’s going on is the fact there are $3 billion of public subsidy going to Amazon,” Gianaris said. “When that letter was signed, many of us thought jobs would be good; we never contemplated that public dollars would be secretly given to Amazon.”
U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents Long Island City, did not appear at the rally, but sent a representative.
At City Hall, Council Speaker Corey Johnson also ripped the secrecy of the agreement.
“I think that something’s fundamentally wrong when you’re giving this much money away, public land away, and it’s cloaked in secrecy. No one in city government should be signing secrecy agreements where they can’t discuss a deal that involves billions of public dollars and public land, where there’s no review on it,” Johnson said.
As for the helipad, for Johnson, that was a “hell no.”
“He should take the E train or the 7 train to Court Square and get off,” Johnson said.
The governor’s office defended the deal.
“The new Amazon headquarters will create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for New Yorkers, provide billions of dollars in tax revenue to improve infrastructure, transportation and education in the community, deliver a 9 to 1 return on our performance-contingent investment and cement New York’s leadership in the economy of tomorrow. We will work with local stakeholders, as we always do, to maximize this transformative investment in New York’s future,” spokesman Tyrone Stevens said.
Pressed on how those stakeholders would be involved, the governor’s office said it would form a community advisory council, which would include city and state lawmakers representing the area, in the coming days.
The governor’s office also pointed to town hall meetings it held at its Belmont redevelopment project project in Long Island, and said it would do the same during the Amazon project.