New York City Council members grilled Amazon executives about the company’s plan to build a secondary headquarters in New York during a contentious hearing Wednesday that was interrupted several times by jeering protesters.
PROTESTERS JEER AS AMAZON TAKES THE STAGE
The City Council chamber was mostly packed with people who did not support the Amazon deal. Protesters slammed it, particularly the city and New York state offering Amazon up to $2.8 billion in tax breaks and grants to build the new headquarters in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens.
The demonstrators interrupted the proceedings at times, leading to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson eventually saying he would clear the balcony if interjections continued.
Sign-carrying protesters filled the hearing room and chanted, “Amazon workers are under attack! What do we do? Stand up! Fight back!”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, hailed the HQ2 deal as a huge moneymaker for the state and the city when Amazon announced last month that it would split its second headquarters between New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Amazon is promising to bring 25,000 jobs to New York over 10 years and up to 40,000 in 15 years.
“This is a big moneymaker for us. Costs us nothing,” Cuomo said when the agreement was announced.
James Patchett, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, called the project “the single biggest job creation opportunity in New York’s history” in testimony Wednesday.
WHAT DID AMAZON HAVE TO SAY TO NEW YORK?
Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, said the project would provide “over $186 billion in positive economic impact” over 25 years.
Johnson countered, “That analysis was done by someone who was hired by the state of New York, not by neutral third party academics or companies that can provide that economic analysis.”
The executives stoked the ire of Johnson when he struggled to get Amazon to even commit to returning to City Hall for more public hearings on the project.
“You are a trillion dollar company that is coming to New York City, you are avoiding the land-use process, you are taking $3 billion of money, and you won’t agree to come to public hearings?” Johnson asked the Amazon executives.
“Sir, I’m happy to have a conversation with you about the specifics of those,” Huseman said.
The Amazon executive eventually agreed to come back next year.
FURY FROM NEW YORK CITY LAWMAKERS
The City Council has no vote on the project and no apparent path to block it, but they made sure to lambast the Amazon executives.
“We have a crumbling subway system, record homelessness, public housing that is in crisis, overcrowded schools, sick people without health insurance, and an escalating affordable crisis,” Johnson said. “Is anyone asking if we should be giving nearly $3 billion in public money to the world’s richest company, valued at $1 trillion?”
City and state lawmakers, including some who signed earlier letters calling for the online giant to move to the city, are angered at being cut out of a deal that was negotiated without their input, and have criticized both the process and the Amazon subsidies.
“This is bad for Long Island City, bad for Queens and bad for New York City,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat whose district includes the projected Amazon offices. “The mayor and the governor caved to the richest man on Earth and then handed the bill to each and every New Yorker.”
Some independent economic development researchers said the estimates from city and state officials overlook the cost of Amazon’s growth in the city.
State Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who is running to become the city’s next Public Advocate, told protesters rallying on the steps of City Hall before the hearing, “Any politician in our progressive city and our state who’s willing to had $3 billion to Amazon — that should be a career ender right there.”
Council members questioned Huseman about everything from Amazon’s labor practices to its deleterious effect on small businesses to its contract to provide facial-recognition technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“We think the government should have the best available technology,” Huseman said in response to the ICE question.
Councilman Ben Kallos, whose Amazon account was cited in a New York Post story about politicians who had criticized the Amazon headquarters deal despite being Amazon customers themselves, asked Huseman, “Did Amazon provide my shopping cart wish list information to members of the media?”
Huseman responded, “No.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.