Amazon’s Out. What’s in?

I want to give a BIG congrats again to the organizers like One Queens Indivisible, Hearts Across Queens, Queens United Independent Progressives (QUIP), New Queens Democrats, Primed Out NY, Sunnyside/Woodside Actiongroup, LIC Coalition and Hunters Point Civic Association for making sure the people of Queens were heard on the Amazon deal.

By getting involved, they were able to change something that appeared to be a foregone conclusion. For those lamenting Amazon’s departure from LIC, keep in mind that thousands of businesses choose to locate in NYC without $3B in subsidies — including other tech giants willing to pay full freight (and now they know they will have to continue).

Amazon is a corporation with $177.9B in revenue and 600,000 employees. NYC is a city with over $1.2 TRILLION in output and 8.5M residents. There should be no question about who’s been the more successful incorporated entity, and that Amazon cannot hold New York hostage for promises of jobs while sapping our infrastructure, workers and communities. The people of New York know what they’re doing.

Now that the Amazon sweetheart deal is out, what’s in? Here are some issues, large and small, local and statewide, that this political upset raises.

1.The 1,500 units of affordable housing that were supposed to be on the Amazon site. If not in LIC, then another site. No development until that question is solved.

2. A precedent that backroom deals will not be accepted in the name of “growth,” “progress” or “jobs.” You cannot make a deal for the people without engaging the people.

Can those calling for the deal to have been accepted imagine what would have happened if NYC residents had rolled over when the Mayor, Governor, and richest company on Earth made a handshake deal to give $3B in taxpayer dollars to corporate development? It would have been a green light for political and wealthy interests to engineer the future of New York City without the slightest concern that voters should even be considered. Whatever you think of Amazon, this outcome made it clear that the people of New York will not be ignored.

3. Jobs and growth that reflect the needs of New Yorkers. Anyone saying NYC is desperate for jobs and has ruined its future needs to stop. NYC is not desperate for jobs, it is a magnet for innovation, capital, and talent. Its population is set to grow over the next 50 years. Every other tech giant has moved in already — without subsidies. Google is undertaking a $7B expansion with 7,000 jobs on the agenda. There’s a housing shortage that is pricing people out, not urban flight. The attention of our government should be on sustainable growth, not a race to the bottom. New York already outcompetes.

4. Regional planning. Upstate New York is hurting for economic opportunity — suffering from abandoned residential, commercial, and industrial areas as well as a lack of talent and opportunity. Alternatively, New York City is being choked by an affordability crisis. Instead of dabbling in hydrofracking, casinos, and the Buffalo Billions, the Governor and Mayor should focus on long-term, visionary regional growth. It’s past time for investment in high speed commuter options to create a metro area where:

  1. Amazon can pay high wages in places where they go even further;
  2. companies and their employees have access to the amenities of the city;
  3. New York City residents have easy access to more living options and employment opportunities farther away but with a shorter commute time.

Amazon came to NYC for a reason. That wasn’t because it was the cheapest option. It’s because it was the best business decision for access to capital and talent. If Amazon were a partner in high speed mass transit, they could locate in an area that would welcome them with open arms, keep that access, and benefit all New Yorkers at the same time.

5. Concessions from Amazon. Amazon isn’t going to LIC, where it received billions in tax breaks. Facebook and Google already moved into giant complexes paying full freight. If Amazon isn’t building a new campus in LIC, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t ruled out coming in as a regular company after it’s done crying about an unconscionable corporate welfare package from politicians bending over backwards to court mega-donors for their Presidential runs.

6. A better Amazon. In some ways, Amazon is just bad business — contracting with ICE, undercutting workers, and failing to be a good neighbor on the West Coast. But New Yorkers have shown they’re awake and ready to hold even the most powerful people in their city to account. If Amazon sets roots anywhere near New York City — and they will, because HQ2 was clearly about where Amazon wants to be, not where land was cheapest — they’re going to have to contend with New Yorkers and what they expect of the city’s social contract. It will force Amazon to be different here, which will inspire others to stand up and force it to be different everywhere.

7. Sustained organizing, resourced by the Public Advocate. This is the platform on which I’m running: Civics for All, Power for Communities, and Justice for New Yorkers.

Hundreds of the people who fought to change the Amazon deal and held the mighty to account were graduates of the civics workshops I’ve taught across NYC since the 2016 election. That’s how we hold these corporations accountable, and it’s how we force politicians out of their boxes to create a city with big ideas. Ideas like a 100-year plan and regional growth. Did you know the Manhattan grid and Central Park were planned before Manhattan was above 14th Street? It’s time to stop short term politicians making political decisions. Let’s think like a city again.

Speaker/educator on politics & effective change. @manhattandems Secretary. @nydems Committeeman, 66AD. “Traveling civics superhero”. Benjaminyee.com

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