Amazon deal sparks local blowback

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Backlash from NYC elected officials after announcement of a new campus in Long Island City


  • “The governor and they 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 when we are several blocks from the Queensbridge Houses,” Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said at a protest against the deal to bring Amazon offices to Long Island City. Photo: NYC Council, via Twitter.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announce that Amazon will establish a new corporate headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

  • Changes to come in Long Island City. Photo: John Gillespie, via flickr

From nearly the moment details emerged on Amazon’s plans to build a new corporate campus in Long Island City, the tech giant’s deal with the city and state became the subject of immediate backlash from some local groups and politicians. Criticism of the agreement has focused on a variety of factors, including the strain the rapid growth would place on the neighborhood’s transit system and housing market and the nearly $3 billion in subsidies and tax breaks the company is poised to reap.

Amazon has said the Long Island City site and another new campus in Arlington, Virginia would each get 25,000 new jobs that the company said would pay an average of $150,000 a year. Amazon has said it will spend $5 billion between both locations on construction and other projects, and that hiring at the two headquarters will begin next year, but it could take a decade or more to build out the offices.

The secretive process by which the deal was reached has also come under scrutiny. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio engaged in private negotiations with Amazon that excluded state and local legislators, arriving at an agreement that exempts the development from the City Council’s authority on land use decisions. Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the legislative body is reviewing its legal options to change or block the deal.

Here’s what local politicians are saying:

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “New Yorkers are being told Amazon needs and deserves billions of dollars in payments and tax breaks to locate in Long Island City, minutes from Manhattan, when we have no certainty on a range of issues from local hiring to the effects on rents throughout the city. Moreover, the state plans to suspend local control over zoning – what gets built and where – not in order to build critical regional infrastructure, but to build a corporate headquarters. This sets a scary precedent for every neighborhood in every borough. This project should go through a full public review like any other major project and there should be a robust public engagement process.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson: “Amazon is one of the richest companies in the world, but you can’t put a price on community input, which has been missing throughout this entire process. I find that lack of engagement and the fact that the negotiations excluded the City Council – which is elected by New Yorkers to guide land use projects with communities in mind – extremely troubling. I also don’t understand why a company as rich as Amazon would need nearly $2 billion in public money for its expansion plans at a time when New York desperately needs money for affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure and education. I will always advocate for economic development and jobs in New York, but when the process is done behind closed doors, with zero community input and nearly $2 billion in subsidies to a global behemoth, I am going to be skeptical.”

Council Member Keith Powers, who represents much of Manhattan’s East Side: “The public clearly has a lot of questions about Amazon. A public process allows us to discuss impacts of development and the overall value of the deal. We want good jobs, but bypassing the public process is a poor precedent & raises a question of why one project gets a pass.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: “While I’m glad that Amazon recognizes that Queens is a great place to do business, I’m concerned about the lack of community input and the incentivizes that Amazon received in order to convince them to bring these jobs to New York. One of the wealthiest companies in history should not be receiving financial assistance from the taxpayers while too many New York families struggle to make ends meet.”

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez: “Many New Yorkers, myself included, are concerned by the enormous incentives this package extends to Amazon. There are also very real reservations about how this proposal would affect traffic, transit crowding, housing affordability and our small business communities in Queens and Brooklyn.”

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City: “The governor and they 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 when we are several blocks from the Queensbridge Houses… We have a public housing crisis…but somehow folks who consider themselves progressive Democrats have seen fit to throw $3 billion at the richest man in the world.”

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell: “Now that the details have come out, it’s clear that this is a bad deal for New York. The truth is, many of the jobs Amazon is claiming they will create are already being created without billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies… This deal includes no investment into our subways, no new affordable housing, no infrastructure repairs to NYCHA developments in Long Island City, and no entry level jobs for those that need them the most.”

—With The Associated Press

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