New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Patch NY's $3B Gift To Amazon Could Pay For Wish List Of Fixes: Pols by Noah Manskar

NY's $3B Gift To Amazon Could Pay For Wish List Of Fixes: Pols

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY — Lawmakers on Wednesday pledged to fight Amazon's move to Long Island City, saying New York is giving away taxpayer money that would be better spent on infrastructure and education.

"We will go to court if we have to. We will take legislative action if we have to," state Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, said at a rally alongside a few dozen politicians and advocates.

"But they are clearly trying very hard to give the people of New York virtually no say about this whole deal."

Amazon announced plans Tuesday to set up one of two new headquarters on a swath of waterfront property in Long Island City, helped by $3 billion in city and state tax breaks and other incentives.

At the rally near the future site of Amazon's at least 4 million-square-foot campus, opponents of the plan slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for negotiating a secret deal with the trillion-dollar company and its ultra-rich CEO, Jeff Bezos.

City Council members condemned the fact that the project will be developed through a state-led general project plan, circumventing the need for City Council approval.

"This is the ultimate case of three men in a room," said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who has recently emerged as one of the plan's leading critics.

Cuomo and de Blasio argue Amazon will be an economic boon for the city. The new headquarters will create at least 25,000 high-paying jobs and generate more than $27 billion in new city and state tax revenue, providing a nine-to-one return on the public investment, officials say.

But the anti-Amazon contingent said the $3 billion should fund the city's crumbling subways, fix public housing, support public schools and shore up the already exploding neighborhood's failing sewers.

State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) has reportedly proposed legislation that would use the corporate subsidy money to cancel student debt.

Despite assurances that the project will provide community benefits, opponents say there's no guarantee Amazon will be a good corporate neighbor. Some pointed to its anti-union record and its impact on Seattle, where housing prices have grown and a homelessness crisis has reportedly emerged.

"They are taking away precious housing dollars that should go to the most needy, that should go to public housing right here in Long Island City," said Jonathan Westin, executive director of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change. "And Amazon is doing exactly the opposite everywhere they go."

Wednesday's rally also drew representatives from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and newly elected Democratic state lawmakers, who will control both houses of the state Legislature come January.

But eight of the current and former elected officials who spoke at the rally signed onto a letter last October urging Amazon to come to New York City.

Addressed to Bezos — whom one of its signatories, Councilman Ben Kallos, compared to a "Bond villain" on Wednesday — the letter stated officials' belief that "Amazon will be a strong contributor to our civic and commercial life."

Gianaris, who signed the letter, said the officials thought the jobs stemming from the project would be good, but "never contemplated that public dollars would be secretly given to Amazon to get them here."

He did express some openness to Amazon staking its claim in Long Island City if it weren't getting help from taxpayers.

"If it means an increase in services for the community that they want to join to make sure we can handle them coming here, and there's no public subsidy involved, then that's the conversation we should start having," Gianaris said.


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