Two Seattle lawmakers traveled to New York to share war stories from their battles with Amazon to a group of concerned activists and officials Monday. They were invited by a coalition concerned about Amazon’s planned Queens campus and the government subsidies offered to seal the deal.
Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold told the crowd about their city’s affordability issues, homelessness crisis, and influx of newcomers drawn by tech jobs. They also held up Seattle’s short-lived head tax as an example of what can happen when Amazon gets involved in a political fight.
Amazon has grown rapidly in Seattle, occupying 20 percent of the city’s office space and employing more than 45,000 of its residents. It provided an economic boost other cities are eager for but also put a squeeze on real estate and low-income Seattleites.
“You guys have the leverage,” Mosqueda said. “You have the opportunity that Seattle didn’t. We weren’t able to keep up with the demand on housing because we couldn’t respond fast enough.”
Update: An Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement in response to the event Monday.
“Amazon is engaging in a long-term listening and engagement process to better understand the community’s needs. We’re committed to being a great neighbor – and ensuring our new headquarters is a win for all New Yorkers. Amazon makes substantial positive contributions to the economy, the communities where we operate, and to the lives and careers of our employees. We have created more than 250,000 full-time, full benefit jobs across the U.S. that now have a minimum $15 an hour pay and we have invested more than $160 billion in the U.S. economy since 2011.”
Mosqueda and Herbold were invited by Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that provides legal services and advocates for immigrant and working-class communities.
In the weeks since Amazon announced plans to build a 25,000-person office in New York — one half of the company’s ballyhooed second headquarters — a resistance effort has been growing. New York City officials grilled Amazon executives during a public hearing about the proposal, focusing on the billions of dollars in subsidies the company could receive in exchange for the promised job creation.
“Amazon set up ‘The Hunger Games’ and they pitted city after city against each other with a predetermined, in many ways, understanding of what the finalists would likely be,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the event Monday. “They tried to squeeze as much out of Crystal City and New York City to get the best deal possible.”
Skeptics of the plan are paying close attention to Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, where tensions have been growing between the city’s progressive arm and its largest private employer.
Mosqueda and Herbold said those fears are legitimate. “Many, many of the living wage jobs will go to people moving into Long Island City,” Herbold said.
Despite their concerns, the Amazon deal is likely to go through in New York. It has support from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though the plan will need approval from the Public Authority Control Board.
Mosqueda cautioned the crowd not to give up hope Monday. “This is a huge opportunity for us as a community to come together,” she said. “Because while we lost the effort in Seattle, the Mexican proverb comes to mind, which is, ‘they thought they could bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.’ “